Why AI Won’t Be Replacing Teachers Anytime Soon


AI is often associated with frightening scenarios depicted in science fiction. In the realm of higher education, concerns about AI have led some to predict the demise of the entire sector. However, focusing solely on institutions and faculty is a misguided approach. Instead, we should consider how AI can help us better serve our students and fulfill our mission. This does not mean blindly embracing technology without reservation, as suggested by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and a member of the original PayPal mafia. Rather, it means recognizing the potential for AI to enhance routine human activities, like a helpful assistant akin to Tony Stark's J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Iron Man movies. By utilizing AI in this way, we can positively impact the educational experience for students and achieve our goals more effectively.  

While I understand the concerns about the expansion of AI, I do not believe those calling for a pause are excessively worried. As educators in institutions of higher learning, we must grapple with the question of how we should interact with AI. Higher education is a diverse landscape, consisting of thousands of independent institutions with varying missions and financial resources. Therefore, each institution will need to navigate this field on its own, which grants them agency but also places the responsibility and consequences solely on them.

In considering how AI will transform higher education, I engaged in a "conversation" with ChatGPT4 and asked it some questions. According to ChatGPT4, AI can utilize advanced algorithms and machine learning to analyze students' strengths, weaknesses, and learning preferences. Based on these insights, AI could personalize the curriculum to suit each student's needs, optimizing their learning potential. This approach would eliminate the traditional one-size-fits-all approach that often underpins conventional higher education.

Furthermore, AI can greatly transform feedback and grading. AI-driven learning platforms have the capability to provide real-time feedback to students, and AI tutors that operate 24/7 can offer individualized instruction and feedback, thereby making quality education accessible to anyone with an internet connection. As scholars and educators, we have always adapted our disciplines and teaching methodologies to new eras, and AI represents another opportunity for reinvention.

While AI can undoubtedly provide faster feedback and customized learning experiences that could benefit students, it is important to acknowledge that AI may perceive education in transactional terms, primarily focused on content accumulation. However, with thoughtful implementation and consideration, we can ensure that AI serves as a valuable tool to enhance student learning rather than reducing education to a mere transaction.  

While AI-driven education can offer valuable benefits, it often overlooks the fundamental nature of education as a human activity. Education is not merely a transactional process; it is transformational. It encompasses character formation, human development, emotional connections, and the fostering of deep thinking and reflection. The impact of great teachers in our lives does not solely stem from the efficient transfer of knowledge, but rather from their ability to connect with and inspire us. They create an environment that encourages us to think critically, engage with a community of learners, and confront the complexities of life.

However, AI tends to view education as an individual pursuit, detached from the broader context of space, time, and social groups. It falls short of addressing the holistic needs of students as complete individuals. As we learned during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation can be detrimental to students, and the most meaningful learning experiences occur within small, engaged groups. We owe it to students to provide them with a sense of community, a nurturing space, and an education that goes beyond screens and isolation from the world.

While AI may excel in speed and efficiency, we must ask ourselves if it can genuinely help students lead more meaningful lives. Can it answer the profound question posed by the poet Mary Oliver: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" The recent discussions regarding the potential misuse of ChatGPT for cheating in higher education highlighted concerns and prompted calls to disable its use. Viewing AI as a threat and seeking to protect the purity of learning may limit our ability to embrace technological advancements and expand our educational approaches. We should recognize that technology is not an intruder but an undeniable reality, and learning itself is more resilient than we may realize.

In conclusion, while AI can serve as a helpful tool, we must always remember that education is ultimately a deeply human experience. It is our responsibility as educators to incorporate AI thoughtfully, ensuring that it complements and enhances the transformative aspects of education rather than replacing the essential elements of human connection and holistic growth.  

During my early days as an assistant professor, a senior faculty member once asked me how to disable the internet. He aimed to limit his students' access, perhaps to maintain his preferred teaching methods. Experiencing this transition taught me a valuable lesson: the significance of prioritizing student-centered teaching over my own comfort with new technology. My objective became finding approaches that worked best for the students in my classes, rather than rigidly adhering to outdated pedagogical methods. I embraced the idea that it's acceptable to experiment and incorporate technology in ways that enrich and enliven teaching.

Rather than viewing technology as a hindrance, I saw an opportunity to turn perceived negatives into positives. It's worth noting that this was not merely a generational issue, as the person who encouraged me to explore these possibilities was actually older than both myself and the professor seeking to restrict internet access. This individual recognized the potential benefits before I did.

In higher education, too many individuals tend to focus solely on the downsides associated with AI. While it is crucial to approach AI cautiously and develop strategies and policies to combat academic dishonesty, emphasizing only restrictions does a disservice to our students. If AI is becoming an integral part of our world, we have a responsibility to find ways to provide students with a reason to value transformative education over a transactional one. This entails studying and experimenting with each new technology that emerges.

So, how should we engage with AI? We need to embrace a mindset of exploration and discovery. We can begin by acknowledging that AI presents both challenges and opportunities in the realm of education. By actively studying and experimenting with AI, we can uncover innovative ways to leverage its capabilities in support of student-centered teaching, ultimately enhancing the educational experience for all.  

Every educational institution will inevitably face the impact of AI. Sadly, while some institutions will embrace AI and utilize its potential to enhance education's transformative mission, others may be compelled to adopt AI as a cost-saving measure, leading to a model where a significant portion of instruction and academic support is carried out by AI. This decision is often driven by economic considerations, as personnel costs, including faculty and staff, make up a substantial portion of higher education expenses. Consequently, many institutions heavily rely on adjunct instructors for a significant portion of their instruction.

For these institutions, the adoption of AI could potentially lead to the emergence of learning factories, where remote students receive minimal faculty attention and instruction primarily occurs through AI-powered systems. Assessments are often graded by AI, which could contribute to a system that prioritizes quantity over quality and resembles a diploma mill rather than a genuine environment for learning and personal development.

Those in more privileged positions within the education system must recognize the importance of advocating for better outcomes for all college students, irrespective of their circumstances. Neglecting this responsibility would perpetuate the creation of a two-tier education system.

As scholars and educators, we have always adapted our disciplines, methodologies, and pedagogies to align with each new era. It is crucial for us to continue this tradition by deeply studying AI and approaching it through a multidisciplinary lens. We need to delve into its potential benefits and flaws, formulate hypotheses, and conduct experiments to gain a comprehensive understanding of its implications in education. Rather than succumbing to fear, we should actively embrace this new era and closely interrogate AI to determine how we can adapt and integrate it effectively into our educational practices.  

We have a responsibility to teach our students to embrace the opportunities presented by AI. In this era of technological advancement, we must reconsider how we design assignments and deliver instruction. It is crucial to ensure that technology never becomes a barrier between the student and the teacher. We should strive to create inclusive learning environments that are not isolated from the world, avoiding the creation of closed-off classrooms.

Having spent 25 years teaching, I can attest to the incredible experience of being in a room filled with intelligent students, primarily in their twenties, engaging in discussions on important topics. Witnessing their thought processes as they navigate complex issues and draw their own conclusions is truly remarkable. Our role as educators goes beyond simply imparting information; it is about curating experiences and knowledge. Additionally, we must equip our students with the skills necessary to thrive in the real world, embracing its imperfections and challenges.

Now, with AI as a new addition to our educational toolbox, we have more possibilities at our disposal. This development can elicit both fear and excitement. Personally, I choose to lean toward the excitement, recognizing the potential benefits that AI can bring to education. However, it is also important to be mindful and cautious, acknowledging the limitations and potential risks that come with AI. Let us move forward with enthusiasm, while also ensuring that AI does not overshadow the value of human connection and critical thinking in education.  

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