Fears about technology in education are nothing new. In 1967, when Texas Instruments developed the first handheld calculator, many worried that students would become over reliant on calculators, lose their understanding of mathematical concepts, and stop practicing mental calculations. Shawn Jansepar, Director of Engineering at Khan Academy, sees similar trepidation at play when it comes to AI in the classroom nearly 60 years later. Will students stop learning? Will AI chatbots do everyone's homework for them? What happens to the college admission essay? Far from the dire predictions issued by various news outlets when ChatGPT launched in 2022, Jansepar expects AI tools to transform education for the better. He recently joined Round to talk about the history of EdTech, what's exciting in the field today, and the advent of AI private tutors. Here are three key takeaways.
The Internet allows people to learn from anywhere — and that's been true for over two decades. Universities started offering online classes and degrees in the late 1990s. Soon, prestigious institutions opened their curriculum to the public with Massive Open Online Courses. By the early 2000s, YouTube became a surprising hub for tutorials on nearly any subject imaginable. Salman Khan began using the platform in 2008 to post tutoring videos for his young cousins. These videos — which allowed the viewer to pause and rewind as needed — became hugely popular, leading Khan to establish Khan Academy (which today boasts 13 million registered users). As of 2012, Jansepar says that Khan Academy was only one of a few supplemental EdTech tools, but since 2019, there's been a proliferation of tools that students use both inside and outside the classroom. He estimates an increase of 90%. People now use Duolingo to learn foreign languages; they take classes on platforms like Udemy, Coursera, or Udacity. Those still in school practice concepts using Quizlet and Desmos, and their teachers capture roster data with Clever or record lectures using Nearpod.
Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that the average student getting one-on-one tutoring performed 98% better than those educated in a control classroom. According to Jansepar, this phenomenon, called Bloom's "2 sigma problem," inspired Khan Academy to create a tool that simulates one-on-one learning for any student, turning the "2 sigma problem" into a "2 sigma opportunity”. Khanmigo, Khan Academy's AI tutor, was developed in three months to accelerate student learning. It works based on how students learn — engaging them at the edge of their knowledge with problems and questions that are neither too easy nor hard, providing immediate feedback, and supporting them when stuck. Their chatbot also finds ways to get students excited about what they're studying. For example, when reading The Great Gatsby, the AI takes on the persona of Jay Gatsby to help answer their questions about interpreting the novel. Unlike ChatGPT, which gives students answers, Jansepar says Khanmigo guides students to solve their homework problems step by step like a real-life tutor would.
Soon after OpenAI released its AI chatbot, ChatGPT, for public use in late 2022, New York City banned it in public schools over concerns about students using it to cheat. But Jansepar insists that the benefits of using Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT outweigh the potential risks. Khan Academy is among many organizations leveraging the new technology to improve student success. Duolingo, for instance, recently released Duolingo Max, which lets users practice chatting in a foreign language with an AI chatbot. Quizlet also launched Q-Chat, which like Khan Academy's AI product, acts as a personal AI study coach, quizzing students to determine what they don't know and deepening their understanding of existing concepts.
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