Teaching and learning with AI (part 2)

AI the disruptor

AI has the potential to disrupt classroom life

AI is increasingly being described as a “key disruptor” of business and commercial systems. In this, it is following a well-established pattern of the effects of any new technology on society. “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us,” as Marshall McLuhan (almost) said.

The phrase “key disruptor” is used less often when talking about education, especially in schools. This is because its iconoclastic power is constrained and regulated by a number of other powerful forces. 

Until now, the use of IT has been absorbed into the existing structures of education: rarely does it reshape the equilibrium of school life, which (for many) is built on routine and regular external examinations and inspections.  

Even so, it is worth remembering that IT and AI in particular, fit Kranzberg’s first ‘law of technology’: ‘technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral’. 

This series of articles look at the powerful forces that constrain the use of ICT and AI in school classrooms. They use the important ideas of visible and invisible controls proposed by the English sociologist Basil Bernstein. 

This series of articles (numbered 1-10) is intended to be a contribution to initial teacher education and the professional development of teachers.

Background: teacher-centred and student-centred pedagogies

Educational theory is still dominated by the split between traditional “teacher-centred” learning and progressive “student-centred” learning. These are often treated as polar opposites and mortal enemies

The twin approaches are shrouded in ideology. From 2010, there was a shift in educational policy in England towards a “knowledge-rich” curriculum. The architects of this change often cite ED Hirsch as a founding father. 

Hirsch promotes a teacher-centred pedagogy of a knowledge-rich curriculum. Unsurprisingly, he is highly critical of John Dewey, whose book “Experience and education” is a high watermark for student-centred learning.

Teacher-centred learning uses teacher’s questions to stimulate memorisation of information, promote understanding and critical thinking, as in a “Socratic dialogue”.  

This is named after the teaching of the greek philosopher Socrates, who taught in the Lyceum is Athens.

Student-centred learning encourages students to build their own understanding, often in social situations and was favoured by the Russian psychologist Vygotsky and the American psychologist Bruner. It is the basis of inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning and project work. 

Traditional and inquiry-based learning are often presented as being discrete categories but can also be seen as being complementary approaches, with different strengths and weaknesses.

Seeing the approaches as opposite ends of a spectrum, allows us to imagine many intermediate positions occupying the centre ground. These blend the best of the two approaches. 

These are dynamic, versatile pedagogies, because teachers can move between pedagogies depending upon how the lesson develops. 

Teacher-centred and student-centred learning become different tools in a teacher’s toolkit, to be used at different times and circumstances. 

The pedagogy chosen will influence how AI will be used in schools. To see how, we need to explore one of Bernstein’s most important ideas: visible and invisible controls. 

Q. Think about a typical lesson in your school. When do you give control to students to:
* work independently
* work in groups?

How do you ensure that the students know what to do and stay focussed on the task?

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Updated 16/01/24 to include end of article question.