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AI's Structural Paradox for Schools

A steampunk AI robot looking paradoxical
The paradox of AI for schools

Our students need to develop skills in collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving - All the more as the AI revolution gathers momentum - yet AI is driving schools away from valuing these attributes.

Assessment lies at the core of good teaching and learning. It reveals misconceptions, where a student is at on the journey from novice to expert; in short - it informs the teaching and learning that comes next. Secondly, assessment holds the learner to account for their part of the learning process. It measures the lap-time against which the students can strive for their personal best, the accuracy of their mental schema against reality.

a graphic relating two goals of assessment with formative and summative assessment
Assessment goals versus the continuum from formative to summative assessment

Assessment in schools is also a political and cultural act. What we teachers choose to assess, and the manner in which we assess, signals to our students what we value.

Leaving aside for now the in-the-moment formative assessment that teachers do continually; school assessment falls into two broad types; "the test" and "the project". The test is carried out in a highly artificial environment (which has it advantages and disadvantages). Tests are critical in assessing the domain competence of students and easy to authenticate (ensure it is this student's performance and not someone else's). Tests are important tools and will remain so in school assessment. However, they are poor instruments for developing (or assessing) the kinds of capabilities called for in the 2023 intergenerational report - creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, problems solving, etc. "The Project" has more potential for being both a playground to develop and a means to assess these essential capabilities in a context where students can develop and demonstrate them with access to real-world resources (peers, the internet, productivity tools, discussion, and the like).

Here lies the paradox for schools:

AI is driving schools away from assessing using "the project", reducing project-like assessment tasks to a test. This shift is caused by the same tsunami of change sweeping the world for which our students will need to lean even more heavily into what makes us human. AI is driving the balance away from assessment instruments which, however poorly, are they best we have for nurturing and valuing all those "c" (and problem solving) skills. As educators scramble ensure that an assessment artefact is authentically the work of that student, the project is being subsumed by the test. The same force is driving schools, and world they are preparing their students for, in opposite directions.

A graphic describing the paradox of AI driving school assessments to more tests while AI is changing society to increase the need for students to have communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking skills and competence with modern tools

The curly question is, "How do we as educators, restore the balance? How do we re-think assessment to ensure that we are nurturing and communicating what we value?

These is a difficult problem with no simplistic solution. The best approach lies in schools beginning the journey of formulating a strategic response. Don't wait for perfect before starting to articulate an ethical and safe framework your school, teachers and students to adopt and explore AI.

Schools and teachers have barely picked themselves out from under the asteroid of COVID and another - bigger -revolution is robbing us of vital tools we have refined over decades. We will need time to collaborate, communicate, create, critically evaluate, problem solve and innovate. At the very least as we do these thing, let's remember to do so visibly, humbly and bringing students and school communities along with us. Perhaps we can show the value of the these capabilities for managing change and thriving within it, as we pick through the broken glass of shattered assessment tools.

In following posts, I'll be exploring some practical ways that we can restore the balance and still assess authentically. However, just recognising the paradox is the first step as teachers - those wonderful creative, caring, hard-working professionals - work through solutions that will make sense in their school, with their students, in their context.

The picture of the future for our students just got blurrier, but one thing is clear: teachers have always nurtured the future in the now of their classrooms.

by Roger Kennett, Learning Forge

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