The Rise of Instructional AI

As is so often the case when new and disruptive technologies arrive on the scene, many education institutions have reacted to generative AI like ChatGPT with alarm. Much of the discussion among both K-12 districts and universities has focused on the way that essay and discussion prompts may be susceptible to academic dishonesty by students using ChatGPT and other forms of generative AI. The result is that many institutional leaders are investing in tools that promise to detect AI-generated writing content. Some school districts have banned the use of generative AI outright, in hopes that such policies will deter students from using it to cheat. Those policies have, in turn, prompted backlash from educators like Ethan Mollick, who have made the case for a more thoughtful approach.

For example, in a recent article in One Useful Thing, Ethan talks about how AI and AI tutors can and should be used to enrich the classroom experience saying,

“With AI tutors taking care of some of the content delivery outside of class, teachers can devote more time to fostering meaningful interactions with their students during class. They can also use insights from the AI tutors to identify areas where students might need extra support or guidance, enabling them to provide more personalized and effective instruction. And with AI assistance, they can design better active learning opportunities in class to make sure the learnings stick.”

Ethan Mollick, The Future of Education in a World of AI

This approach has resonated with many in the education world and has aided the development of “Instructional AI.”

What is Instructional AI?

Now you may be thinking, “what in the world is instructional AI?”. Well don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! According to the Department of Education, AI in education, or  instructional AI, can be defined as artificial intelligence that enables new forms of student interaction, helps educators address variability in student learning, supports powerful forms of adaptivity, enhances feedback loops, and helps support educators. Educators can harness the power of instructional AI to reshape the way learning is done and use it to provide equal opportunities for students everywhere. Afterall, everybody has the right to an education.

How Can I Take Advantage of Instructional AI?

The most fully realized example of instructional AI currently in use is Packback, whose AI-enabled approach to writing, coaching, and inquiry-based student discussion has been used by more than 1.5 million students to date.

Rather than generating text on behalf of students (like generative AI models do), Packback uses its instructional AI models to provide highly personalized, instantaneous feedback to students that teaches them how–and why–to improve their written work. Similarly, the platform uses the same underlying AI to provide educators with powerful grading assistance, through highlighting key passages, suggesting scores for each non-content category of the rubric, and providing instructors with detailed originality reporting. By taking advantage of the power of instructional AI, instructors are able to get out of the weeds and instead play the role of content expert in the grading process. In fact, we believe that enabling instructors to prioritize content will allow them to foster stronger connections with their students and effectively dismantle the barriers that traditionally exist between students and teachers.

Furthermore, Packback’s multifaceted approach to instructional AI has already opened several doors for students and educators. For students, Packback’s platform brings the writing lab to their dorm rooms with real time feedback and coaching right to their laptop, allowing them to learn from their mistakes and improve their writing as they go. For professors, Packback allows them to reduce the time spent grading while still providing them with the luxury of being able to assign engaging and enriching assignments.

How Does Packback’s Instructional AI Work?

Because Packback’s AI reviews and makes suggestions in real time as students write, it offers a uniquely formative approach to writing — in which students can integrate feedback during the writing process itself, rather than waiting for an instructor’s review. Instructors, in turn, spend less time evaluating grammar and spelling, and more time engaging with their students’ underlying ideas and thought processes.

Take a moment to listen to the insights shared by one of our Packback professors, who highlights how Packback’s writing platform, Deep Dives, has not only enhanced their students’ writing but also significantly reduced the time they spend on grading.

“I feel that Deep Dives helps streamline my grading process. I can better focus on the content as I keep in mind the algorithm suggestions. The support feels nice and I know my students love it.I can see the improvement in their writing which also helps make my life easier. The grading rubric works great for my class and I can also always tweak the rubric if I use Deep Dives in a future class.”

How is Packback Adapting to The Rise of Generative AI?

Though its instructional AI platform was popular even before the advent of generative AI like ChatGPT, Packback has adapted its suite of products to respond to the rise of AI-generated writing tools. In December 2022, Packback made an AI detection tool available to its users that has a near-zero false positive rate on identifying AI-generated posts and essays. Like other such tools (e.g., CopyLeaks and Turnitin, both of which have developed or are developing detection mechanisms), Packback can provide a helpful stopgap during this period of uncertainty as instructors rethink writing instruction for an AI driven age.

But the underlying ideas behind instructional AI demand that educators and technology developers alike go beyond a prevent-and-detect approach to generative AI. In the months to come, Packback and its partners, including the League for Innovation in the Community College, will be issuing guidance and providing ongoing training to help instructors with specific pedagogical changes, including ideas for classroom assignments, designed to embrace the growing role of AI in educational settings.

The Future of Instructional AI

If one thing is clear from the precipitous rise of generative AI like ChatGPT over the past few months, it’s that AI has crossed the rubicon from a potential disruptive force into a very real, and inescapable, part of the education experience. Educators’ and administrators’ responses to ChatGPT and other forms of generative AI will lay the groundwork for how we respond to future disruptions, making it all the more important to not act impulsively.

The coming months and years are likely to bring a steady stream of emerging technologies like ChatGPT that make use of the enormous power and potential of artificial intelligence. As these technologies become easier to design and develop, they’ll be more readily available to the public — which means that education leaders should prepare for them to show up in classroom settings sooner rather than later, regardless of if they like it or not.

What we’ve learned from ChatGPT, even in a relatively short time, is that fear and backlash are unproductive (and even counterproductive) ways to engage with such tools. The schools and classrooms that have weathered the storm are those that have instead treated generative AI as a catalyst to rethink their assignments and assessments in ways that help students prepare for a future that is increasingly dependent on the relationship between human and machine.

Looking Ahead

When the next disruptive AI force arrives, administrators and instructors alike should take the lessons learned from ChatGPT to heart. None of these tools are likely to shake the foundational elements of education that matter most: its grounding in relationships between teacher and student, and its focus on cultivating curiosity and critical thinking. With those principles in mind, high school and university leaders alike will be able to meet future technological challenges – and opportunities – with open-mindedness and adaptability, and better prepare their students to navigate an increasingly AI-driven world.
Click here to learn more about how Packback is molding the future of instructional AI.

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