Can AI Create a More Engaged Student?

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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What if instead of getting in the way, AI could help students get deeper into topics that interest them?  

I’ve been thinking about this since attending the College Board’s 2023 AP Annual Conference, where a panel of educators spoke about the role of generative AI in the classroom. The majority of teachers attending the session had not used AI and were apprehensive about how it could support them, until some of the early adopters started to shareShani quote.png their experiences. A lot of light bulbs began to light up. It turned the conversation quickly from a negative focus on cheating to an emphasis on providing students with new opportunities to learn. Time has allowed more teachers to better understand what AI can do for them, and it is fueling excitement! 

One teacher from the panel I caught up with, Bruno Morlan, of Acalanes High School (CA), has his AP History students practice answering questions with feedback from AI to help elicit more details needed for full credit. He’s used AI to help students decide where to do additional research in order to prepare for a presentation. “[AI] has not gotten in the way of honest academic work; it has students getting deeper into topics that interest them.” 

We know that teachers are constantly learning, and AI literacy is at the forefront of lifelong learning for educators. Former Chief Reader for the APⓇ Psychology Exam and new coauthor on Myers' Psychology for the APⓇ Course, Elizabeth Yost Hammer, is empowering her students to learn AI literacy alongside other key skills in the college psychology classroom. “We teach critical thinking, we teach tech literacy, and we talk about how these come together in thinking critically about what we’re reading online.  Now we are talking about AI literacy broadly: how do you use it well, how do you critically think about it, and how do you use it ethically.”  

Hammer is teaching students to create a hypothesis before using AI to assist in a research project. Students were a bit surprised to hear their professor suggesting they use AI.  At Xavier University of Louisiana, where Hammer serves as the director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development, their mission is to develop students into leaders.  Hammer encourages her students to use AI as a tool, but to always imbue their voice in their work: “We need you at the table, and you are not going to be at the table if you don’t have a voice.”  AI literacy involves students understanding the benefits and the risks, checking information sources, and always developing their own thoughts.  This is preparing them for their time outside the classroom as they think about career opportunities, too. 

At Macmillan Learning, we see AI creating more engaged students with an AI Tutor that we’re piloting in several disciplines in higher ed.  The tutor is prompted to chat with students in a Socratic communication style, aiming to stimulate intellectual curiosity and facilitate self-directed learning. The tutor will not simply provide the answer but is instead instructed to help students with a specific homework question.  Instructors piloting the tutor have reported that their students are getting the help they need in a safe space where they are not embarrassed to persist the way they might with a human tutor. Students are engaging and asking more questions when they don’t understand or need a reminder on key concepts or equations. One instructor noted: “The AI Tutor is helping students get started, resulting in less questions about the basics of how to work problems. This is allowing us to use help room time/office hours for more advanced questions and even some discussions!” 

Whether you’re a college instructor or teaching high school, AI is sure to have an impact on your classroom and influence how students learn. Embracing AI doesn't mean losing the essence of teaching and learning; it's about amplifying it, making sure every voice is heard, and every piece of history is explored with a fresh perspective.  Let’s work together to prepare students not just for exams, but for a world where technology and humanity work together to spark new ideas and new voices with our engaged students.