Unlocking the Power of AI in Schools
In Minnesota, only 21% of high schools teach computer science, placing Minnesota last in the nation. But national statistics are grim too: just over half of high schools in the nation offer only a single computer science course in high school. Meanwhile, jobs requiring computing skills continue to rise.
Among the computational advancements that have begun to reshape the educational landscape, artificial intelligence (AI) stands out as a game-changer. But with education so slow to embrace computer science curriculum on a national level, integrating AI may be on an even slower adoption curve.
To explore the potential of AI in schools, we spoke with Dr. Alexandra Holter, Computer Science Coordinator at Bloomington Public Schools, Minnesota, who sheds light on the positive impact computer science education and AI can have when thoughtfully integrated into educational policies.
About Alexandra Holter:
Alexandra Holter holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Study from Oklahoma State University. She is the Computer Science Coordinator at Bloomington Public Schools, Minnesota. Dr. Holter also serves as the co-president of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) in Minnesota. She will represent CSTA on a newly created Computer Science Education Working Group through the Minnesota Department of Education to enhance computer science education in the state of Minnesota.
Equipping Students with Essential Skills
Dr. Holter believes that computer science plays a crucial role in education. “In K-8, computer science is about computational thinking,” said Dr. Holter. “We build skills, joy, and confidence at these ages. We want all of our younger students to be engaged and joyful so they persist in higher grades. Not all of our students will choose to become computer scientists, but every student will use the skills they develop through computer science integration in their coursework. These skills are essential for every single student, no matter what future path they choose.”
Bloomington Public Schools offers computer science in every school and full immersion at several sites, including their K-12 virtual school, New Code Academy. “Computer science is about so much more than just coding and programming,” said Dr. Holter. “At Bloomington Public Schools, we are committed to computer science in K-12 because of the transferable nature of the skills. Students learn problem-solving, critical thinking, developing a growth mindset, and so much more.”
Preparing for an Unknown Future
Technological literacy is now as fundamental as traditional knowledge for students. As the educational landscape continues to evolve, schools must prepare students for an unknown future where the fusion of computer science and artificial intelligence play a pivotal role.
Just as educators previously faced concerns about the availability of new resources like Wikipedia, Google, and even calculators, some are apprehensive about AI tools. However, it’s critical for today’s students to not only access these tools but also learn to harness the power of AI responsibly.
“We are not serving students if we don’t teach them to use and understand emerging technology,” Dr. Holter emphasized. “As educators, we cannot shy away from it; we must recognize the human component of AI. After all, AI is only as good as the human mind that can process its output. Students still need to learn the same skills and core content knowledge, but AI can revolutionize how they search for information, demonstrate knowledge, and engage in deeper learning.”
The synergy between computer science and AI education equips students with not just essential skills but also the ability to navigate the ever-changing, technology-driven world effectively.
Promoting Equity in Education
“Part of our job as educators is to open all fields to everyone and help all students feel welcome,” said Dr. Holter. “Women and minorities are historically underrepresented in the computer science field.” Dr. Holter believes that by integrating computer science into all grade levels, all students benefit from increased confidence in their abilities and knowledge.
Integrating AI into the classroom is only part of the equation. Administrators and educators may find that by automating certain administrative tasks through AI, they can free up their time to focus more on student engagement and personalized instruction. This shift can result in a more efficient and effective educational system.
With AI’s ability to analyze student performance data, teachers can quickly identify areas where individual students may benefit from additional support, thereby paving the way for more efficient differentiation of lessons, the delivery of pertinent content, and the cultivation of connections with students’ unique interests. This comprehensive approach not only streamlines administrative work but also elevates the quality of education by aligning it more closely with each student’s needs and passions.
“The velocity at which we can ask and process questions is phenomenal,” said Dr. Holter. “I think it could be great for all educators where their priorities are relating to students over administrative work. AI may be able to quickly synthesize data and speed up routine administrative tasks and reporting.”
Dr. Holter emphasizes the potential of AI to streamline communication and collaboration, but she is quick to note that AI is a technological tool and not a replacement for people. She is also cognizant of data privacy and security concerns and notes that many of these conversations are still evolving at institutional, state, and federal levels.
Addressing Fear of Change
Educators and administrators may have reservations about AI stemming from concerns about privacy and other uncertainties it presents. “AI is not a novel technology, and it’s not going away,” said Dr. Holter. “We need to figure out how to use it ethically and responsibly. AI is impacting all industries, and education is not alone in worrying about this change.”
Teachers are grappling with the dual responsibilities of teaching traditional foundational skills but also instilling AI literacy in their students. This situation presents a complex juxtaposition between identifying which skills can be enhanced with AI and those that need to be cultivated independently of AI.
“Assessments may need to change as students develop AI literacy,” said Dr. Holter. “We may have to rethink some traditional practices. As educators, we play a vital role in preparing students to navigate a world where responsible and ethical AI use is just as crucial as mastering traditional knowledge and skills.”
As we look to the future of education, it’s evident that AI has a significant role to play in shaping the learning experience. Dr. Holter’s insights from Bloomington Public Schools highlight the positive potential of AI in schools, provided that policies are thoughtfully implemented.
By embracing AI and its capabilities, schools can better promote equity, enhance teacher efficiency, equip students with essential skills, and prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly AI-driven world. AI in education is not just about technology; it’s about empowering students to excel in a rapidly evolving landscape.
Published on: November 1, 2023