WIP Alex Kotran

AI and education: ‘We don’t have 20 years to get this right’

A conversation with Alex Kotran, co-founder & CEO, The AI Education Project

In this episode of the Work in Progress podcast, I’m joined by Alex Kotran, the co-founder and CEO of The AI Education Project (aiEDU) to discuss preparing K-12 students for the impact of artificial intelligence on the way we learn, work, and live.

While AI – more precisely ChatGPT – seems to be the word of 2023, aiEDU has been focused on the issue of artificial intelligence and education for the past few years. The nonprofit advocates for a nationwide adoption of AI studies in the classroom, educating and empowering student with AI literacy.

“We’ve focused on middle school and high school now, but we have ambitions to go as soon as possible to K-5. Our curriculum is designed to embed into core subjects, in addition to computer science and CTE. It’s really important, getting into core subjects, because that means that students don’t get the chance to opt out or opt in,” says Kotran.

aiEDU sees teachers as the first line of defense, arming the educators with both curriculum and professional development. He argues that advances in artificial intelligence are coming at us quicker than ever before, and concerns about whether ChatGPT would make it easier to cheat on homework and tests are minor compared to the long-term impacts of AI on the economy – the stakes are too high.

“We have to move past this question of should we allow students to use ChatGPT? We don’t have 20 years to get this right with AI, we have three. That’s the velocity of the technology; that is really where the challenge lies,” Kotran tells me.

“The normal pace of education is not going to keep up with the pace of adoption in the economy because industry and business have already decided that this is not a question of should, it’s a question of how. Full stop. They see it as a competitive advantage, or competitive risk, because the future of work isn’t pausing to consider whether ChatGPT is legitimate for somebody to use. Schools are going to have to get there.”

Kotran says AI, machine learning, ChatGPT are not going away. Educators have to speed up their assessment of what it looks like for every student to use ChatGPT effectively and competently. They have to act now.

“You have to have a clear strategy to ensure safe and responsible use of the tool, and that will include things like policies at the district level and privacy considerations and safety considerations. But one of the biggest components of safe and responsible use will be having a teacher at the wheel. This is not about automating the work that teachers do. This is about giving teachers more capacity to do their best work as educators.

“When we think about teacher training and education, it’s really almost a necessary condition for students to really be able to explore these tools. It also happens to be a great way for teachers to enhance learning, and it has profound implications for accessibility and actually enabling us to provide more supports to the students who are frankly the most marginalized. The most marginalized kids today are the ones who benefit the most by far.”

Kotran argues that schools already have the right foundation in place with investments in computer science and STEM education, but it can’t stop there.

“Steve Jobs talked about the computer as the bicycle for the mind. And right now everybody’s riding a bike and some bikes are faster than others. Some students, they’re at a different starting line, but they’re all on bikes. And what AI is to the mind is it’s a sports car.

“Over the next few years, there are going to be some students who are going to be trying to race on their bicycle against kids in sports cars. And that is scary, but it’s also an opportunity because it means that we can hand kids the keys to a technology they could not have fathomed.

“The imperative thing is that every single student needs to learn about what AI is? Why is it important for me? How does it impact me, day-to-day in terms of the products that I use? And also, and this is the new thing, is how do I use some of these tools safely and effectively? What are their limitations? What are they really good at? We really don’t have a minute to lose.”

Kotran urges anyone who wants to add their voice to this conversation to reach out through The AI Education Project’s website at aiedu.org.

“We love hearing from pretty much anybody that is interested in this topic. We work with parent groups. We work with school districts. We work with nonprofits, with state and federal agencies. If you’re thinking about this problem and you have some ideas or specific goals about how we can actually move the needle, we would love to hear more.”

And you can hear the entire conversation with Alex Kotran here, or you can download the episode and all the past episodes of Work in Progress wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 281: Alex Kotran, Co-founder & CEO, The AI Education Project
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4
Download the transcript for this podcast here.
You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts