The AI for homework revolution
Students are using AI apps such as ChatGPT to turn in homework, and teachers can use these tools to plan lessons. How can parents spark learning in the age of AI and homework?
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Back when Gahmya Drummond-Bey was a student, Google was the bad guy. Educators didn’t want students relying on internet searches to do their homework.
“Our teachers wanted us to use microfiche,” says Drummond-Bey, who is now a global curriculum designer for today’s digital students and a contributing writer to Parenting in the Digital World. It seemed teachers wanted their students to use the tools that were more familiar to them, she says. “It was all about pleasing the educator.”
Now, in 2023, Drummond-Bey is experimenting with AI apps to design lesson plans. With the rapid rise of students using AI apps to do homework, parents and teachers worry about what kids will do with the technology—and if they’re using it to cheat. But educators like Drummond-Bey say AI is sparking a homework revolution.
“People are saying the current generations Alpha and Z have lost their communication skills because they chat with emojis,” Drummond-Bey says. “With ChatGPT you have to actually explain what you’re trying to learn. If we’re saying we want to teach communication and writing skills, then I don’t understand why we’re upset.”
Even experts like Wharton School of Business professor Ethan Mollick tweeted that “AI has basically ruined homework, but it has positives, too.” The technology isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It took the social media network Facebook roughly 10 months to reach 1 million users. It took ChatGPT just five days to reach that milestone. It’s here to stay. So how can parents spark learning in the age of AI in homework?
How AI homework tools work
There are several free and paid AI software programs. These AI writing assistants and tools, such as ChatGPT, OpenAI Playground and Nerdy Bot, are often based on natural language generation software that’s able to produce wholly original, seemingly human-written text on request.
For example, an AI homework assistant might be asked to field “Write a 1,000 word essay on the history of the Industrial Revolution,” or “Create a poem inspired by the works of William Shakespeare.”
But these AI apps require that kids collaborate with the technology. Students can write a request such as “Write a poem about camellia flowers,” and the first result can turn up a pretty basic response. From there, students need to push the technology to ask more specific questions, such as “Try again, but can you talk more about what makes the flowers bloom in January?”
AI homework assistants can also be a nudge to students to review their grammar or do more fact-checking in real time as they write, or make facts and information more readily available to researchers in an instant. They might also give a prompt or helpful creative push to kids who don’t know where to get started when writing an essay.
There are limitations, as it’s still relatively early days for the technology. These solutions often require human review and editing, making them more of a helping hand than a substitute for creative and critical thinking. But the copy and references that they generate can pass for handwritten prose and can significantly cut down on a students’ need to manually research and write about topics, even writing an entire essay.
AI and education: How teachers are using artificial intelligence
With the growing presence of AI tools in the classroom, some studies suggest that teachers could use AI so as to spend more time actually teaching students. Time-strapped and overworked teachers can use AI as a grading and task management tool. These tools can quickly automate grading and give individualized commentary and feedback to students on their assignments. And teachers are using similar AI tools to determine whether a student’s work is original.
“There tends to be a history of this clutching of pearls when it comes to technology and new advancements in the classroom,” says David Thomas, executive director of online programming for the University of Denver. “But as it turns out in many instances, like with the internet and online courses, technology can play a powerful role in helping us educate students more effectively.”
Are AI homework tools the future of learning?
The main challenge, Thomas adds, is that most school programs and curriculums aren’t structured or flexible enough to embrace these new, smarter tools in ways that make sense for teachers and students.
"We don’t have a great solution for assessing learning anymore,” Thomas says. “Our traditional ways of doing so tend to require students to write up things that now can be written by a computer. Want to know the difference between students who actually know the answer to a question or searched for it online? You can tell the difference just by sitting down and talking to them for a minute.”
The nature of AI apps—which require questions and interaction with the student—promotes the kind of learning where the student becomes the teacher, Drummond-Bey says.
“We’re learning together now,” Drummond-Bey says. “And isn’t that what education was at the beginning? Before there were books, before there was internet, the basis of education was conversation and connection. “
Ready to talk with your kids about AI and homework?
For starters, ask kids if they’re considering using AI homework tools, and when they might prove handy. And if they’ve used these tools, ask them why, and if they were helpful.
If your kids are using AI in homework, the dinnertime conversation will be more essential than ever before. When talking with kids about what their AI queries are turning up, listen for that spark of excitement and learning, and nurture it. “If your child solely depends on communication through a bot, where’s their confidence in their own ideas and thoughts?” Drummond-Bey says. “Empower and encourage their own ideas and thoughts by saying ‘Tell me more.’”
Make a point of going hands-on with AI homework assistants with kids, or assign them projects to complete using these technologies with the right amount of age-appropriate supervision. Then discuss the results they produce. What did your child learn from the exercise?