The recent roll-out of a nationwide plan for integrating generative AI into Australia’s schools has put teachers right in the middle of an exciting, yet challenging, tech revolution.
The plan, announced in December 2023, aims to ensure that as schools adopt AI tools, student privacy, security, and safety are prioritised, and that the technology enhances teaching rather than hinders it.
In the meantime, there are hopes that as this technology advances at a rapid pace, new opportunities to improve teaching and learning will emerge in tandem. But what do Australia’s teachers actually think about AI and the impact it is having so far?
To find out, Atomi – a teaching and learning platform that supports over 700 Australian high schools – surveyed more than 250 Australian educators.
One interesting finding from the survey – which included a range of early career teachers to highly experienced educators with over a decade of experience – was that while teachers see AI as a disruptor to teaching methodologies, 85% said it will never replace educators themselves.
The survey also revealed teachers’ thoughts about the ethical implications of AI’s use in the classroom, with 60% of respondents saying they were “concerned” about this.
Thierry Wendling, Head of AI, Atomi, said while there are clear benefits in using AI in the classroom and the overall responses on the use of AI were “overwhelmingly positive”, the implementation of a new technology can also come with “growing pains”.
“Some teachers were concerned that AI could be used by students to complete assignments and tasks without doing the work themselves,” Wendling told The Educator.
“For example, in English, there are increasing concerns that AI is writing student essays. Unchecked this would create learning gaps in students which could have a ripple effect on their knowledge and skills as they progress not only through school but into their life post-graduation.”
Wendling said by moving away from traditional assessment types to more interactive assessment focusing on the application of student knowledge teachers can minimise the risk of students offloading the task to an AI.
“Finally, principals need to ensure their teachers feel confident in not only the use of AI but also in creating new assessment tasks that will reduce plagiarism opportunities,” he said.
“Possible suggestions include tasks prompting students to extrapolate their knowledge to different situations or to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”
Every educator can utilise AI’s power in different ways
Another telling finding in the was that 58% of educators reported increasing student engagement via the integration of AI in their lessons.
Atomi’s co-CEO, Rob Barakat, said the rarity of AI is that the classroom possibilities are endless and that every educator can utilise its power in different ways.
“Principals can encourage their teaching staff to think outside the box and leverage AI to provide a variety of different learning tasks that move away from traditional classroom activities without being time onerous on teachers,” Barakat told The Educator.
“Examples include role-playing tasks using AI as a stand-in for specific personas such as a debate partner or subject expert who may point out weaknesses in student arguments.”
Alternatively, said Barakat, AI-driven gamification can incentivise students by providing rewards and leaderboards encouraging healthy competition between students.
“This ultimately drives engagement and participation.”
AI can offer a clearer view of student abilities
The research that Atomi undertook examined teachers’ attitudes on how technology can support differentiation in the classroom, with 78% saying it can help. Additionally, 73% of educators said it helps support neurodiverse students’ needs and 70% said it can help students who fall behind.
“As the AI possibilities are endless, this can be overwhelming for teachers when faced with 25 students in one classroom,” Atomi CEO, Rob Barakat, told The Educator.
“Using platforms like Atomi that both harness and streamline the use of AI is key to maximise these benefits. For example, we currently leverage AI to identify student strengths and weaknesses and provide automated content strength scores and revision recommendations for students.”
Barakat said this not only tailors the learning process for students, but also provides teachers with more accessible oversight of student abilities.
“From here, educators can make data-informed decisions about which students need help, extension or better access to the curriculum,” he said.
“The challenge with technology and differentiation is that there are always more ways to help students and consistent reflection on the use of AI in the classroom should be implemented to ensure that each student is being supported.”
The other challenge, says Barakat, is to ensure that the AI is consistently reliable and delivers truly helpful assistance to each student.
“This can only be achieved by careful leverage of AI-student interaction data combined with the application of best engineering practices for building a “responsible” AI, which is what Atomi is working hard at.”