Or should you have a piece of cake just because someone says it’s good?

chocolate cake with a robot on top

AI-generated image, Microsoft Designer

It’s been a whole year since the genAI hype kicked off with ChatGPT. ‘The world will never be the same,’ proclaimed the overenthusiastic educators actively on the hunt for the holy grail (and perhaps a few conference opportunities). ‘Well, well,’ sighed the less spirited minds, the ones facing the daily grind of actual teaching and tool testing (either voluntary or as prescribed by the management) in the classroom. They’ve heard the ‘world will never be the same’ refrain plenty of times. With AI-powered platforms and tools popping up left and right – literally anyone can make one now – I thought it would be a good idea to discuss what to keep in mind so we don’t end up with something that looks like a piece of cake but turns out to be all frosting and no substance (or all plastic as in the case of my AI-generated cake above).

an AI tool decision tree for teachers

Before you decide to bring a tool into your class, think about three important things, especially if you’re using a third-party tool.

Safety and Security

Firstly, ensure the safety and security of students’ information. You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘If something is free, then you’re the product.’ When you sign up for a service, you’re essentially sharing your information, and it’s your choice. However, when your students do it for a ‘fun tool’, you become an intermediary. Unless the party is 100% reliable (well, who can guarantee that? We’re still on planet Earth, remember), ensure there’s no mandatory sign-up and that you understand how the data is handled.  

Pedagogical Approach Fit

The second factor is pedagogical fit. Evaluate how well the tool aligns with your teaching approach. Does the tool enhance it, or does it introduce a mismatch that could hinder the learning experience? Nowadays, anyone, with or without teaching expertise, from a completely different field, can create an ‘educational’ app. Additionally, even if it’s created with input from particular subject teachers, it’s a business, and businesses want to scale up. There’s this constant risk they’ll go for a one-platform-fits-all approach without really meeting your specific needs. We’ve seen this happen multiple times with various quiz platforms and now with ‘lesson planning for all’ platforms. The one-shiny-button-fits-all thing usually doesn’t hit the mark. 

Tech Compatibility and Sustainability

Check if the tool gets along with your classroom tech. It would be ridiculous to invest in technology that requires fast internet if your connection is unstable. Additionally, consider the long-term sustainability and potential costs associated with the AI use. Think long-term – we don’t want something cool now but gone tomorrow. In addition, AI, being a VERY expensive technology, cannot always be a free ride. 

NB. My Five-Minute Activity Generator that I created to help language teachers come up with more personalised classroom activities is still free so take your chance to experiment with AI.

Once you’ve got all these angles covered, you’re ready to tackle the main questions.

Alignment with Learning Outcomes

The first question is: Does it align with learning outcomes? Initially, consider whether what you’ve planned with the tool is connected to the learning outcomes. If it’s not aligned with your students’ current learning, are you introducing it for engagement (or fun Teaching *Fun*damentals)? If that’s the case, will it aid your students in focusing on learning more effectively?

Suitability with Proficiency Level and Topics

If it aligns with learning outcomes or helps students focus on learning better consider its suitability for the topics/situations your students study and their language proficiency level. By default, the AI output (*LLMs) hovers around the B2 level. So, if you have lower-level students, what you’ve planned might be too advanced for them if you do not have the option to adapt the tool to their level. Additionally, the language might be a bit dull and ordinary if you cannot adjust the output. For instance, if you’re aiming to enhance your students’ conversational skills, see if you can prompt it to ‘write/talk like a human‘. 

Monitoring Student-AI Interaction

It’s essential for you to have the ability to monitor the interaction between your students and AI. No one has full control over AI; it may unintentionally piece together wrong information or provide incomplete or misleading data. To prevent or quickly identify such issues, check if you can have access and monitor AI-students interactions. If you lack access, and your students can’t critically evaluate the output, it’s a significant red flag indicating a potential risk.

Adding More Value:

Evaluate whether the AI tool truly adds value compared to your tried and tested methods.

Does it open up new opportunities for learning, or is it merely a shiny distraction?

Have you tried AI with your students? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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