News from the AI Department of Pots and Kettles

Axios has a story regarding a deal recently announced for the purchase of an AI tool called Writeable by educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The deal seems noteworthy because a) the app is already in widespread use by teachers in many districts across the country and b) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is already a dominant publisher of textbooks and other education materials to primary / secondary schools.

https://www.axios.com/2024/03/06/ai-tools-teachers-chatgpt-writable

The concept of teachers using an AI tool as part of grading written assignments would seem to pose an obvious question of hypocrisy and economics to students, parents and teachers alike. The use of Artificial Intelligence by students still in the process of LEARNING to write is obviously problematic. A key purpose in learning to write is learning to THINK internally even before writing something to communicate to others. But if it’s not OK for a student to “phone in” their work by having a machine churn it out for them, why is it OK for a teacher to “phone in” their work by having a machine critique student papers?

Sure, one could argue, the TEACHER already KNOWS how to read and write. Use of an AI tool just solves a volume problem grading 20-30 papers (elementary) or maybe 120-180 papers (middle / high school). However, what message does that convey to the student or their parent? Is the student getting actual useful feedback on flaws in their writing or did the teacher just find a cheap tool to “pencil whip” some generic feedback so they could avoid ten hours of work? What exactly am I getting for my tax dollars or private tuition from such a teacher?
More importantly, what does computerization and automation of grading mean for the future of teaching?

Khan Academy and numerous YouTubers have already demonstrated there is ALWAYS someone online better at teaching a topic than most teachers. If grading is going to be outsourced to an algorithm and exposition of teaching material can be farmed out to curated 10-20 minute videos and students are already spending more time on-screen even in a classroom, the profession of teaching is facing an even steeper downward path, in esteem and pay.

WTH

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Wouldn’t it be for the same reason that I expect my 10-year-old son to do his long division exercises by hand, but I use a calculator to check his work? Because I already know how to do long division, the goal is not for me to demonstrate or practice facility with the material, and it’s quicker to confirm whether he got the right answers using a calculator. And for teachers, its even easier - almost every workbook I ever used in gradeschool had an accompanying Teachers Edition that had all the answers already printed out.

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This is the only relevant question and critique IMO. “Fair” and “convey[ed] message” are irrelevant IMO.

A brief personal story.

My oldest was recently accepted into a major college (yay!). He used AI to start the process of writing his required application essays. The essays were still his idea, the words used were his (for the most part) but some of the structure and flow was derived from what AI generated.

I frankly see it as the logical extension of things we have already used for years, like spell and grammar check. If that same sort of functionality can be used by teachers to provide quality feedback (e.g. much like spell check and grammar check already do), then I see that as a win for the system.

Teachers that care will still check the output and teachers that don’t likely were not putting in the effort to begin with.

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I dated a girl from Holland 25+ years ago. While visiting, I read through her high school composition books. I asked what textbooks they used for high school classes, she looked at me like I was crazy. She explained that her teachers would lecture to the class, provide examples and demonstrations, allow time to practice and apply, and the students would diligently take notes in their comp books. This was the case for all subjects.

Our education system in the US is jacked, and has been for decades. Look around - we’re reaping the dumbsh!t harvest of what we’ve sowed. Teachers using AI is the least of our concerns.

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Arguably, better consistency in grading across the cohort
Any human grading system is only as good as the humans using it, which means their moods, fitness, energy levels, biases etc. can skew their outcomes.

There’s also the increasing problem of manual grade inflation across various levels of academia, resulting in students in classes/ courses they really aren’t qualified for

Of course any such AI tool would be have to be audited by a suitably trained human, which might end up negating some of the benefits while hopefully preventing any obvious anomalies

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Or, in one case for me, 550! Fortunately, I had a couple of teaching assistants and, even though they were essays on very open questions, we worked out a reliable method for grading.

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I am not for students using calculators or AI.

I am for word processors and many computer programs.

The reason, creative skills can be learned. But if too much computer power is used the learning process will be poorer. The grades might be better.

Using a calculator before turning 10 stops math skills needed to proportion things.

Using AI to write essays slows the inventive process that leans on analytic thinking. Yes someone else’s analytic thinking happens. The invention of your own thoughts is like having a muscle. You need to use it or lose it. Even if it turns out at times you are reinventing the wheel.

Most people will not be great writers or great artists. People with those skills will do far better long after everyone stops caring which college they graduated from.

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True. And it takes diligence, courage, and audacity, not taught in many classrooms.

Possibly true. My background is that of an immigrant’s family. Immigrants work harder. We feel more rewarded by the same work anyone else does.

And significantly interrupts and slows down both learning and mental development

It’s sad to see people unable to add/ subtract a few dollars / cents without scrambling for a calculator.

Mental math is a must for an elementary school skill like arithmetic to become so effortless that the brain is freed up to focus on higher level challenges

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I agree, but it could be argued that using a calculator frees up the brain to focus on higher level challenges.

DB2

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When it comes to fractions/ decimals/ stats etc. absolutely, yes