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Transcript- Episode 95: What Role Does AI Serve In The Education System Episode 95

Jun 6, 2023

00:00:00            Leslie

As practitioners in this space, our number one goal should always be what's in the best interest of the student, what's the best and right thing to do? And that's usually not the easiest thing. So, notice I didn't say the easiest thing, because the best and right is very rarely the easiest thing to do.

00:00:13            Leslie

And like any tool, use it to its maximum capacity for good. And then make sure we're not hurting anybody in the process.

00:00:24            Christina

The workforce landscape is rapidly changing, and educators and their institutions need to keep up. Preparing students before they enter the workforce to make our communities and businesses stronger is at the core of getting an education.

00:00:37            Christina

But we need to understand how to change and adjust so that we can begin to project where things are headed before we even get there. So, how do we begin to predict the future?

00:00:49            Salvatrice

Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College and host of this podcast.

00:00:58            Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.

00:01:01            Salvatrice

And we are starting the conversation about the future of work. We'll explore topics like how education can partner with industry, how to be more equitable, and how to attain one of our highest goals: more internships, and PCC students in the workforce.

00:01:15            Salvatrice

We at Pasadena City College want to lead the charge in closing the gap between what our students are learning and what the demands of the workforce will be once they enter. This is a conversation that impacts all of us. You, the employers, the policymakers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.

00:01:35            Christina

We believe change happens when we work together, and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm Christina Barsi.

00:01:43            Salvatrice

And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.

00:01:48            Salvatrice

Welcome back, this is your host, Salvatrice, and I am joined today by my friend and colleague in the division of Economic and Workforce Development, Ms. Leslie Thompson, our Director of Operations. Welcome to the show again, Leslie.

00:02:01            Leslie

Good morning.

00:02:02            Salvatrice

Good morning, good morning.

00:02:03            Leslie

How are you?

00:02:04            Salvatrice

Pretty good. Pretty good on this Wednesday, I think we are today. I'm not quite sure what day it is.

00:02:08            Leslie

It's a Wednesday. Yeah, at the beautiful Pasadena City College campus.

00:02:13            Salvatrice

That's right, that's right. I got to tell you, we've done this twice now of these chats. And these chats are really kind of geared around what we've been thinking about, what we've been engaged with, conversations we've been a part of. And you and I have had an opportunity to really be a part of conversations around AI.

00:02:33            Salvatrice

And there's a lot to unpack there, a lot. And we're certainly not the first ones to talk about it. We're certainly not the first ones to have some feelings and thoughts around it. But I thought what we would do today is really kind of hit upon just broadly about us being clear with each other and with our community and with our audience about defining AI, how AI has affected or is affecting the education, the classroom, how we conduct our work in education.

00:03:07            Salvatrice

And then really, thinking about embracing AI and what does that look like, and what do we have to overcome to embrace AI in this fourth industrial revolution. And I just thought like that's a good topic for us to kind of lean into a little bit today. What do you think?

00:03:26            Leslie

I think it's a great topic, actually. I'm very excited about the topic. As you know, I kind of nerd out on things like that. I'm going to try to contain myself right now and not go too far off topic. So, yeah, let's do it. Let's talk about it. I think it's really exciting.

00:03:40            Salvatrice

What do you define as AI? Like what do we define AI as?

00:03:43            Leslie

So, it stands for artificial intelligence. We know that refers to the development of computer systems and machines that can perform tasks typically that require human intelligence. I think that's a bare bones definition.

00:03:53            Leslie

I found in reading through stuff, just out of curiosity, I found two other kind of like more distinct definitions. There was one that they referred to as narrow AI which is also known as weak AI. And that's things like voice assistance, like Siri and Alexa. Those are considered narrow AI or weak AI.

00:04:13            Leslie

The other one, which is more interesting and to me, is the general AI, also known as strong AI. And it refers to systems with human level or higher intelligence. And these systems possess the ability to understand, learn, and perform any intellectual task that a human being can do.

00:04:27            Leslie

And while the development of a true general AI is a long-term goal, it still remains an active area of research, and it's yet to be fully realized. So, I think that's where kind of the fear comes in from people, kind of where the opportunity comes in. That's just where the meat and potatoes of it is, and that's super exciting to me.

00:04:45            Salvatrice

Yeah. Let's maybe unpack a little bit of the conversations we've been a part of as it relates to education, because AI is too big to talk about in 30 minutes, and I know that we'll have other opportunities to do deeper dives in this topic.

00:04:58            Salvatrice

But as it relates to education, I feel like (and I could be wrong) the education sector has been a little, dare I say, slow coming around to AI and its effects on our work, specifically within instruction, but also within our workforce in education.

00:05:20            Salvatrice

Gosh, we've been talking about AI for the last decade. It's heightened and it's amplified now because of ChatGPT. ChatGPT is not the only AI source, however, it has been incredibly disruptive, both positively and negatively. And so, I think that we need to kind of sit there for a minute and really talk about how this is informing our work as educators and what should we be really looking at, and embracing and how are we embracing.

00:05:52            Salvatrice

So, that said, I've read and I've heard a lot about instruction supplementing some of their curricula with AI. But there's a challenge there. Much like any new piece of technology that comes in and is disruptive, dare I say, the internet; we had to learn how to embrace it. We had to learn how to use it, we had to learn how to ask it very specific questions to retrieve the accurate information. We have to teach ourselves how to do that with AI. What are you hearing about that?

00:06:29            Leslie

I hear those things as well. And I think it's important to remember that AI is just a tool like all of the other tools that we've adapted and have come to rely on.

00:06:39            Leslie

I read somewhere where they were likening AI to like the steam engine or the wheel in terms of that kind of advancement and that kind of impact. And I think in education specifically, like with the internet, but even more than with the internet, what's education about? It's the pursuit of higher thinking. It's the mind, it's intellect, it's all of these things.

00:07:02            Leslie

And now, you're saying there exists technology that can do that for you. And so, how is that not a threat to education? Like what do you need to go to school for if you're not developing your intellect? If you don't need to develop the capacity for critical thinking because a machine can do it for you, how do we harness that?

00:07:19            Leslie

How do we put a positive spin on that? How do we manage that opportunity and threat in such a way and integrate it into our curriculum with understanding information technology, understanding teaching information literacy, educating students how to harness this tool and use it for good instead of evil.

00:07:38            Leslie

And also, putting a heavy emphasis on the critical thinking part. Because we should know by now, one of the things when you're teaching information literacy is that you don't believe everything you read on the internet. We know that. I will say if it's on TikTok, it must be true.

00:07:51            Leslie

But you have to get people to think critically and move beyond, like just passively receiving information. And that's where the real opportunity of education is. You still need to be able to vet your sources. Just because your source happens to put something out that is very real sounding and sounds very credible, and it's well-written maybe, and you really think, "Oh, I've got this great."

00:08:13            Leslie

Source now and I'm going to use it, there's a lot of other implications. Like how do you cite it, how do you vet it? How do you think critically on your own about the information you're receiving? It's just another opportunity for humans in general, but students in particular to kind of hone those critical thinking skills.

00:08:32            Salvatrice

I'm really happy that you used or that you've brought to light the skill of critical thinking. I've read, and I can't remember where I read it, but they were talking about the evolution of technology, starting from what you were talking about earlier, the combustion engine.

00:08:46            Salvatrice

And they were talking about you can't replace the critical thinking skill that humans can do. A machine can't do that. A machine cannot produce the skill of critical thinking. So, what we do have to do simultaneously reimagine instruction with this new piece of technology, but we also have to reimagine and adjust to the workforce.

00:09:09            Salvatrice

Because now, just as an example, I'm an educator and I'm an educator in history. Well, there might be students that will leverage AI to extract content, but you still need a domain expert to validate the content. So, it's like we also have to rethink, or we have to pay attention to how are we training in professions and specific professions.

00:09:33            Salvatrice

Today, we're talking about education, AI and education, but how are we now training the up and coming educators in this technology revolution?

00:09:46            Leslie

So, we know that there's obviously the need to kind of instill this idea for critical thinking. When you say that AI can't do critical thinking, that we still need a human, I'm not sure, I don't know. I'm going to say maybe AI doesn't have a heart and then we'll talk about that later. I think that it's pretty fascinating.

00:10:05            Leslie

But there are other ways that AI's impact, can positively impact education. And that comes in like personalized learning. Leveraging these personalized learning experiences by analyzing individual student data and tailoring instruction to fit student needs in a way that maybe at a next level, we know in education that you have to address different learning modalities, you kind of have to meet students where they are, and that's the challenge for educators.

00:10:30            Leslie

So, you've got 25, 30 people in front of you, you have to get your content to those students and there might be 10 different ways to do that. And your job is to figure out what those 10 ways are. So, that's a good way to use AI. It can enhance administrative tasks, it can help with grading, scheduling, data analysis, all of that, saving time, again for faculty, tutoring systems.

00:10:54            Leslie

So, they can provide personalized feedback, adaptive learning pathways, real-time assistance to students. Again, that could be leveraged at scale and easily. Imagine what that would do for our success centers or our tutoring centers or even just one-on-one tutoring.

00:11:12            Leslie

Again, data analysis for insights, it can analyze a vast amount of educational data. So, including student performance, and then just access to education in general. It has the potential to increase access to education, particularly in under suit areas or for students with special needs. So, online learning platforms leverage it.

00:11:29            Leslie

There's just a lot of opportunity that I think it's important to focus on because we have this idea that there's a challenge to the critical thinking component. Like they're just getting all this stuff, how do we know it's really their original thoughts? Well, that's been the problem with the internet forever.

00:11:42            Leslie

We use tools like Turnitin to see when students put in a paper to check and see if there's a hit anywhere else - it has been good. I used it a few years ago, I don't know what they're using now, but that was the tool I had at the time.

00:11:57            Leslie

But I think that there are opportunities here beyond that, and to catch those kind of - I'm going to say those opportunities again. I'm going to say the word opportunity one more time - to catch those opportunities for discussion if you find that there's a match somewhere.

00:12:10            Salvatrice

Well, I think that's important to share and unpack those opportunities at some point, because I'm going to call it like it is, there is a fear. There is a fear, and I'm going to use that word because it's real and it resonates with humans. But what you just shared, the opportunities, like we combat that fear with understanding.

00:12:32            Salvatrice

We always combat fear with an understanding. And so, we have to just be very creative and open-minded about how this integrates into our work, how this integrates into our life, and how it integrates into the future of work in developing new talent pipelines. Because again, the training and the skillsets are going to be very different.

00:12:56            Salvatrice

And so, I haven't heard too much ... I mean, what's your sense on the pulse anecdotally. Like in random conversations, you'll hear things, but has there any conversations that you've been a part of that have been alarming to you? Like, "Oh boy, like we really need to bring this home. We really need to unpack this, and figure out how we make it work." We can't ignore it. So, it is what it is.

00:13:24            Leslie

I haven't heard any kind of alarming conversations. I haven't been a part of any alarming conversations. It's all been pretty much like, "Oh, did you hear what's going on with the ChatGPT, and did you hear what's going on with this ..." And all those kind of conversations that we all had, those hallway conversations like, "What's going on? Did you hear the news?"

00:13:40            Leslie

But for me, I'm not going to say alarming, but I think important for us to acknowledge are the ethical concerns for AI in education. Like I think that's super important. And while I'm not hearing those conversations casually yet, I think they're there. I think that certainly, different areas of the college are already aware of it. And particularly with like data privacy and security.

00:14:01            Leslie

So, the AI systems in education, they rely on collecting and analyzing vast amounts of student data. So, safeguarding this data is like crucial. So , that's a major ethical concern. Algorithmic bias and fairness. So, if we're using this information to make decisions about services and things that we're going to deliver to students, we need to make sure that the algorithms haven't inadvertently perpetuated any kind of bias, so that's important.

00:14:30            Salvatrice

I hadn't thought about that.

00:14:31            Leslie

See, this is where your argument that we are still smarter than robots, we need to think about that. And that's when we apply our equity lenses to the work that we do as gatekeepers of this work. Like it's our responsibility to apply our equity lenses, to look at things and check our own biases. We want to make sure that data's not skewing in our bias favor.

00:14:52            Leslie

Like all of these things that we learned like outside of this topic in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion and all of that, it comes to play here. That's important for us. That's where we come in. We need to make sure that there's no algorithmic bias, that we're not keeping aware of.

00:15:06            Leslie

Transparency and explainability; so, AI algorithms using education should be transparent and provide explanations for their decisions. We can't just take it at face value. We're saying students can't just get data for their history project and we can't just get information and take it blindly. We also have to apply critical thought to what we're getting if we're going to leverage it in education.

00:15:25            Leslie

And then informed consent and opt out. Students and their parents should have the right to be informed that this data is being collected and what it's being used for. So, those are kind of, I don't know, in my mind, kind of four big ethical concerns. There's others, but those are kind of some big ones that I think we should worry about.

00:15:43            Leslie

Others that I won't go into detail, but like there's human oversight and responsibility; what our roles are, emotional and social considerations. And then again, bringing it back to my favorite topic - impact on equity and accessibility. Like that's important.

00:15:56            Leslie

So, those are kind of more ethical concerns that we should be worried about, because I think it's an excellent tool and I think that we'll learn to leverage it just like we've learned to leverage all the other tools. It's not going anywhere, students are going to use it, faculty are going to use it. The best that we can hope for is to identify the threats and opportunities, and then mind our ethical responsibilities.

00:16:16            Salvatrice

The best we can do is mind our ethical responsibilities.

00:16:21            Leslie

Be mindful of that. We should always be mindful of that. As practitioners in this space, our number one goal should always be what's in the best interest of the student. What's the best and right thing to do? And that's usually not the easiest thing.

00:16:32            Leslie

So, notice I didn't say the easiest thing, because the best and right is very rarely the easiest thing to do. So, we should be focusing on what the best and right thing to do is. And like any tool, use it to its maximum capacity for good, and then make sure we're not hurting anybody in the process. I think it's a great tool personally, in case you couldn't tell.

00:16:52            Salvatrice

Yeah, I think so too. I think so too. And I think this leaves room for our audience. I mean, I'm really hopeful that our audience who is listening, if there's an example of how this is done correctly or if there's ways in which the listener is leveraging AI in education, I would be delighted to explore that.

00:17:11            Salvatrice

So, listener, if you're out there and this resonates with you, and you feel that you have a real life example that you'd like to share with us, we'd really like to hear about it for sure.

00:17:21            Leslie

I agree. Call to action from the listeners if there's anything related to any of the topics that we've discussed, but particular, this idea of leveraging the existing tool of AI in education - I think it's a really interesting topic to see how other people are dealing with it at different colleges or even K through 12. I mean, they're dealing with it too.

00:17:40            Leslie

I wanted to switch to another opportunity in terms of like AI and workforce development in general because for us, we're like, "Well, students are on their way to the workforce. We're trying to get students workforce ready, that's our whole goal in economic and workforce development.

00:17:54            Leslie

But there's also opportunities for upskilling and re-skilling, the skill demands and shifts chain that are happening because of AI. And so, there's this opportunity to train and retrain employees around using AI and how it's impacting different industries.

00:18:10            Leslie

There's an opportunity to teach collaboration between humans and AI, and then there's all kinds of new job opportunities. So, there's new opportunities emerging that we can't even imagine yet. And they're happening rapidly. Some already exist in companies now, and some are showing up.

00:18:26            Leslie

So, there's a lot of things that we need to address with workforce stuff too, in the addressing workforce displacement because that's a real thing too. People are are afraid of it. And it's not so much a robot took my job, it's that certain, I don't want to say lower level tasks, but certain kind of tasks have long been automated.

00:18:44            Leslie

And then AI is just adding another layer of like what machines can do and to create efficiencies, and scale work. And those are all good things for industry. Those are all good things for productivity, those are all good things for capitalism. Not always good things for people.

00:19:01            Leslie

And so, because in economic workforce development, we're in the people business, we need to think about that too. So, there is an opportunity to discuss workforce displacement.

00:19:11            Salvatrice

For sure. And I think it all boils down to like, as I am hearing you talk about these opportunities and hearing you talk about our focus, I mean we're in the people business, and the word that keeps coming up in my mind is adapting, like adaptation. And it's not so much adaptation because we're giving in, I look at adaptation as a place for us to do things just differently and operate differently.

00:19:37            Salvatrice

So, I hope that that resonates really with our listener too, because there's no need to just conform. Adaptation is not conforming. Adaptation is re-imagining and redesigning ways in how we operate, not only as educators, not only as an institution or as an industry leader, or as thought leaders in this space. It's really about creativity and being creative.

00:20:00            Salvatrice

Oh, that was the other thing. So, for a long time, for the last, I would say five years or so, AI wasn't really considered as a disruptor in the creatives. So, when think about creative thinking, we think about creative in anything, but point in fact, AI is the most disruptive thing in the creative world.

00:20:21            Salvatrice

Even in the way we create and design our own strategies, and our own approach to - we could go down a list of things; even how we creatively approach leadership, how we creatively approach economic development, how we creatively approach planning and design, and there's so many things.

00:20:40            Salvatrice

And so, I think that's also another opportunity. Although it feels very disruptive, I also feel that that's another opportunity for us to really reimagine and embrace design thinking with AI. Because typically, design thinking AI was never considered in design thinking. And there's an opportunity there for us to kind of leverage that.

00:20:59            Salvatrice

But there's so much good, I think there's more good than we know. You just shared 5 or 10, I wrote down a few things here. But you've shared a handful of opportunities for us to really think about. And so, I genuinely feel like next step for us is to really kind of unpack those opportunities one by one in some capacity. And we'll certainly keep our listener updated on how we do that and the outcomes of that.

00:21:25            Salvatrice

But this has been lovely. I really appreciate our talks because you and I are constantly thinking about things and how we do this work and how we present ourselves in this work, and the approach to this work. This is really helpful.

00:21:36            Salvatrice

The listener gets to hear our brains thinking and how we kind of come up with some of our own initiatives and our own solutions to some of this work.

00:21:47            Leslie

Yeah, I think it's important, not just educators but workforce development programs to anticipate the evolving role of AI in the job market. And we have to be proactive about that. If we're preparing students to enter the workforce, we need to prepare them for an AI integrated workplace because that's what's going to be waiting for them.

00:22:05            Leslie

So, nothing to fear, it's just that we have to be proactive in understanding, appreciating, and anticipating the evolving role of AI. So, I think it's great. And I think it was a good topic.

00:22:17            Salvatrice

Well, thank you very much, and we'll catch you on the other side of the screen or the other side of this podcast. I look forward to our next chat.

00:22:24            Leslie

Me too. Thank you.

00:22:28            Salvatrice

Thank you for listening to the Future of Work Podcast. Make sure you're subscribed on your favorite listening platform so you can easily get new episodes every Tuesday.

00:22:36            Salvatrice

You can reach out to us by clicking on the website link below in the show notes to collaborate, partner, or just chat about all things future of work. We'd love to connect with you. All of us here at the Future of Work and Pasadena City College wish you safety and wellness.