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You Can’t Spell Education Without ‘AI’: The New UNM Research Underway

This article originally appeared on the University of New Mexico website and is reprinted with permission.

While the term “artificial intelligence” (AI) may be exhausted in its quantity of mentions, the University of New Mexico (UNM) community is just getting started with exploring this impactful phrase.  

Literacy professor Mary Rice in the College of Education & Human Sciences (COEHS) is exploring the role of AI and education. From future teachers to current educators to students of all ages, it is a connection worth understanding.  

“I still don’t know all the answers. I think the place where we should be centering is thinking about how to help teachers and students learn what those sorts of tools can and cannot,” Rice said. 

Ph.D. student Jegason Phosphorus Diviant and Ph.D. candidate Lou Ellis Brassington are part of this cautiously optimistic area of study alongside Rice.  

“I think it’s essential that we consider what the right ages might be for incorporating generative AI into our educational strategies,” Diviant said. “We need to consider whether its use is developmentally appropriate and whether it aligns with the curriculum standards and learning objectives for the class. We need to teach students how to critically assess AI-generated output and help them to strengthen their digital, information, and media literacy skills.” 

Putting The A-I In Equitable  

Rice approaches the potential positives of AI in the classroom with what she refers to as “techno-skepticism.” 

“I think it’s always good to be critical of whatever kinds of technologies that people are using, especially what we are asking young people to use. Oftentimes teachers are just commanded to take a tool and use it with the kids. Instead of saying ‘good luck’, I think we should be asking important questions about what the kids are really going to get out of it,” Rice said. 

The questions she has asked so far focus on two key realms. The first, as published in Computer in the Schools, is how AI can help children with disabilities. Better yet, how can it help all kids be on an equal playing field, no matter where their district is, or what funding it receives? 

“We should talk a little bit about the whole notion of identification with disability because some people feel different ways about it,” Rice said. “Sometimes using that term is the only way to get access to services, so that would be important, but then also there is a notion of how come we don’t just make a society that’s accessible? How come we have to have a society where some people get sorted into having abilities and others don’t?” 

While the definition of disability is often controversial, there was a focus on a variety of angles when analyzing the use of AI. This included cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder, dyslexia, intellectual disabilities, languages and learning disabilities. 

“My research has indicated that students with disabilities certainly benefit from the usage of AI in multiple areas. I think that with guidance and plenty of professional development workshops, lesson planning for students with disabilities, gifted students, and students, in general, can be tailored to enhance the academic experience for all classrooms of all grade levels,” Brassington said. 

Diviant highlights beyond the scope of niche lesson planning, there are additional, concrete technologies that can be allocated to assist students who need that extra boost.  

“AI technologies may be able to provide speech and language support, visual and auditory support, and enhance assistive technologies such as screen readers and voice recognition technologies,” he said. 

AI, Rice emphasizes, really ensures students get true, even-handed learning and empowered accessibility, which could promote a more unified classroom. 

“Instead of focusing on educational situations on what people cannot do or making kids do things the hardest things in the hardest ways possible, why are we not thinking about how to reposition them in ways that would help them be optimal, be successful? Let’s spend money on that kind of stuff,” she said. 

Read the full story on UNM’s website.