How should educators use AI to prepare students for the future?
In a little more than a year, freely available artificial intelligence technology has evolved from generating half-right passages of slightly awkward text to creating artistic original images, generating error-free computer code, and even passing an MBA exam at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. If a user-friendly computer assistant like ChatGPT can already do all of that, AI seems poised to upend traditional work practices and hiring patterns—even when it comes to knowledge-economy jobs.
There are signs that high school and college students around the world are anxious about AI and this uncertain future. While educators fret about plagiarism, cheating, and how to use AI to improve instruction, students are wrestling with more fundamental questions about what they are learning and why. They are looking at the fast-changing world and wondering if their coursework is properly preparing them for the workplaces of tomorrow.
“We’ve seen an increase in… nervousness around students. All of us have moments in school when we’re like, ‘When are we ever going to use this?’,” said Keeanna Warren, CEO of the Purdue Polytechnic High School network of university-affiliated charter schools. “And so now with ChatGPT, students are asking themselves about that with everything. ‘You’re teaching me to write an essay? When am I ever going to use this? You’re teaching me to make a presentation? We’re never going to use this.’ And then they take it to the next level, ‘What am I going to do?’”
At a recent panel discussion at Harvard University about students’ perspectives on generative AI, law student Yusuf Mahmood said he has serious concerns about how well the school is preparing future lawyers to use AI tools for work, especially at big firms. Musicology graduate student Siriana Lundgren said that introductory-level research courses need to change to keep pace with AI’s rapid rise.
High school students share these same worries. Sam Cheng, a junior at Design Tech High School in Redwood City, Calif., said in an interview that AI is just one more technology causing schools to be out of step with what students need. “This problem has been around for a really long time of students feeling like school isn’t preparing me for the real world,” Cheng said. AI, in his view, only adds to that pervasive problem.