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Opinion: Teachers Need the Support of Formal AI Policies

The founder of the Learning Engineering Virtual Institute makes the case for giving teachers structured guidance and ongoing support to experiment with artificial intelligence tools and incorporate what works.

A person in a business suit standing in front of a green chalkboard while drawing a line underneath words on the chalkboard that read: "How to Prepare for AI Revolution."
Every few years, a new technology emerges that promises to transform education. From the personal computer to the Internet to interactive “smartboards,” ed tech’s impact on schools is often hit or miss. Today, another technology — artificial intelligence — looms, and school districts are quickly approaching another inflection point: They can either lean in and harness it, or risk going the way of the smartboard in poor implementation and failed expectations.

Today, nearly half of teachers are using AI even though 3 out of 4 have received no training from their leaders on its classroom use. The usage trend is incredible when you consider that this technology wasn’t publicly available just 18 months ago.

A new survey, commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation in partnership with the Learning Engineering Virtual Institute and published this month, sheds light on AI’s growth among teachers who are using it for things like brainstorming lessons, creating classroom materials and designing quizzes. In some cases, they’re also automating notes to parents, while some are using it to check student work for plagiarism or to help them grade assignments.

Teachers are giving AI technologies a meaningful chance to change how teaching and learning happen. Now, it’s up to AI innovators, policymakers and school leaders to provide them with the support and guidance they’ll need to maximize its potential.

In many of these early use cases, teachers are finding that AI can save them time. This is a promising trend. Surveys show that while teachers work 54 hours a week on average, only about 25 hours are spent teaching. The rest is dedicated to administrative paperwork, student discipline issues, lesson planning and other tasks. AI can help ease the burden of these.

But achieving this potential will not happen by accident. We need more research and development that tests applications of AI that enhance the work of teachers. We need ways to track what works and scale it. And we need much better support and training of teachers in the use of AI.

A good start would be for districts to adopt clear and flexible guidelines on AI use in the classroom. Some 80 percent of districts lack formal policies, leaving teachers on their own to navigate the evolving technology. Districts owe teachers the guidance and support they need to put the technology to its highest and best use, because AI is evolving rapidly. And that guidance should be simple and flexible, and not create a bureaucratic burden on already-overwhelmed teachers.

The Biden administration has been pushing on this issue. In an executive order from late last year, the president pushed to do more to create “resources to support educators deploying AI-enabled educational tools, such as personalized tutoring in schools.”

For their part, researchers and developers are already creating AI-based tools that help teachers with planning and other back-office burdens. For example, the PLUS team at Carnegie Mellon has created an AI tool that helps educators figure out which students need in-person tutoring and which can use online math platforms — with early success in raising student scores.

The project is supported by the Learning Engineering Virtual Institute, which I founded to leverage the best of learning science and AI to support teachers and learners. This week, our AI Lab launched several new pilot tools that also aim to help educators with more administrative tasks. One example is the Math Hint Generation Chatbot, which helps teachers give math students feedback on incorrect answers by providing them with constructive hints.

These AI tools show how technology can support and empower teachers in a modern classroom. But these tools will only succeed if teachers get ongoing support to experiment with them and incorporate what works.

Nearly every teacher I’ve ever met during my career wants to do right by the students they teach. If policymakers prioritize supporting teachers as they experiment with AI, we have the potential to make this technological wave leave a much deeper imprint on how our children learn and flourish.

Kumar Garg is the founder of the Learning Engineering Virtual Institute and president of Renaissance Philanthropy. He previously worked as a senior leader focused on science and technology in the Obama White House.