Wakaw School, Wakaw SKCarol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ has been around since the 1950s, but a lot has changed since then. Today, AI is talked about in the news, books, movies, and TV shows, but if asked to give a definition many people would find it challenging to adequately explain it. According to the Oxford Dictionary, artificial intelligence is defined as “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages”. AI is a machine with the ability to perceive, reason, learn, interact with an environment, problem-solve, and even use creativity. AI can create poetry, write stories, and even formulate university-quality essays. AI is voice assistants like Alexa and Siri, and some customer service chatbots that help people navigate websites. Looking back, the beginnings of artificial intelligence began with the development of the first computer by Alan Turing, and as such it is as ingrained into the theoretical DNA of computers as coding. One of his colleagues at the Government Code and Cypher School in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, England, later shared his remembrances of Turing discussing how he believed that computers could learn from experience and solve new problems through using guiding principles. It would take nearly 90 years before his predictions would be realized. 

A recent article by William Eltherington and Nicole Thompson for the Canadian Press and published by CBC on August 27th delved into the question of the role artificial intelligence can play in the field of education. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/teachers-use-of-ai-1.6949046) Eduaide.AI is a program that promises to assist teachers with lesson planning, teaching resources, assignment feedback, and assessment building. Jessica Reid, an elementary school teacher in Muskoka, Ont. explained in the article why she turned to artificial intelligence to help keep her workload manageable. “Either I was sacrificing my family and using my evenings and weekends on hours and hours of planning, or I was dedicating more time to my family and … didn’t feel like I was doing my students justice,” she said. Whether it was her family or her students, she said, “I felt like I was sort of dropping the ball.” As she returns to the classroom this fall, she plans to have the program complete her lesson plans for her. Although she said she won’t rely on it for information, it will give her a guideline she can follow about what to teach and when.

“Children who are five years old or younger … they will never know school without artificial intelligence as part of their daily lives,” Sarah Eaton, an associate professor at the University of Calgary and an expert in AI education said. AI is a reality that can’t be ignored because students who are tech-savvy will understand and utilize the technology whether teachers embrace it or not.

When asked about the impact of artificial intelligence on teachers in the classroom, Darryl Dickson, Principal of Wakaw School said that school assessment practices in Saskatchewan should be outcomes-based and not solely product-based like take-home assignments, projects, and essays. As a result, AI technology really should not have a detrimental impact on the school system as long as students are taught how to think and do for themselves, and this means focussing on the process more than the product. 

The important thing with all types of technology is teaching students to use it as an aid in learning. Like the internet before it and calculators before that, even, the concern has always been that students will ‘cheat’. If the education system is only concerned with product and not process then the problem lies not with the technology, but with the system. Teachers can demonstrate the ways to use it responsibly and use it to facilitate the teaching of critical thinking skills. In these days of fake news and disinformation, and with the release of the ChatGPT app, an AI-powered language model that captured worldwide attention because it could write essays, solve complicated math problems, and write computer code in just seconds, it would be irresponsible for the education system to ignore it even amid the ongoing debate about ethics, plagiarism, and other potential problems. Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are at the centre of all learning and as new tools are developed whether it be in the private sector or in the education field, if they can be utilized to help children learn how to learn, then educators need to ride that wave of new learning with their students.

By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 07, 2023