When using conversational AI in our teaching and learning, one of the first challenges is ensuring that we use the technology to connect and communicate with students in innovative ways. As educators, we need to feel comfortable curating our curriculum via new tools and channels to meet our students where they are. We also need to leverage digital capabilities in service of emerging digital pedagogies in ways that foster collaboration and creativity. However, one potential pitfall of the use of any advanced technology, such as conversational AI, is that we will widen the digital divide between students of relative digital privilege and those who may be marginalised by a lack of access or accessibility when it comes to these innovative methods of teaching and learning.
Let us start with a bit of background by first looking at two key concepts: digital pedagogy and critical digital pedagogy.
What is digital pedagogy? Digital pedagogy (DP) involves studying and applying digital technologies in teaching and learning. DP has its roots in constructivist theories of instruction (see Kellsey & Taylor-Beswick, 2017; Lewin & Lundie, 2016), philosophies of digital pedagogy, and studies in philosophy and education. DP is most commonly used to support blended learning approaches involving online, hybrid, and face-to-face environments.
Critical digital pedagogy is a way of thinking about and approaching digital technology in education grounded in principles of social justice, equity, and inclusivity. It emphasises the importance of critically examining and challenging how digital technology is used in education and considering its potential impacts on students, teachers, and society as a whole. To take that a step further, critical digital pedagogy (CDP) seeks to extend the definition of DP by addressing marginalising issues such as how a lack of access to technologies, power structures, asymmetry of accessibility, and issues of inclusivity may impact teaching and learning (see Morris & Stommel, 2018; Stommel, 2014).
Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educator and philosopher whose work has had a significant influence on critical pedagogy and critical digital pedagogy. Freire was particularly concerned with issues of social justice and how education could be used as a tool for liberation and empowerment.
One of Freire's most important contributions to critical pedagogy is his concept of the "banking model" of education, in which the teacher is seen as the depositor of knowledge and the student is seen as the recipient of that knowledge. Freire argued that this model is oppressive and undermines students' agency and critical thinking. Instead, he proposed a "problem-posing" approach to education, in which teachers and students work together to actively construct knowledge and meaning and encourage students to take an active role in their own learning.
Freire's ideas have been influential in developing critical digital pedagogy, as they emphasise the importance of empowering students and recognising their agency and potential to shape their own learning experiences. In the context of digital technology, this might involve using technology in a way that supports student-centred, collaborative, and inquiry-based approaches to learning rather than simply using it as a means of delivering content or assessments. It also involves critically examining and addressing how digital technology may reproduce or reinforce existing inequalities and biases and working to create more inclusive and equitable learning environments.
It is important to remember that when employing chat-based learning or conversational AI in teaching and learning approaches, that this is not a zero-sum choice. Most educators today operate in a blended learning environment and necessarily have a blended pedagogical approach. How might teaching and learning approaches differ when digital tools or channels are involved? We have a sense of what it means to be a good teacher in the classroom. But what does ‘good’ look like when applying an approach like chat-based learning in teaching? Students come to class with expectations (that often vary widely) about what it means to ‘go to school’. It is essential to consider how the application of conversational AI can disrupt our students' view of what it means to go to school. Now and for the near future, educators will need to develop and demonstrate skills more traditionally aligned to those of content curators and coaches as they engage increasingly connected and collaborative students.
There are many ways in which conversational AI can be deployed in a manner that considers critical digital pedagogy. Here are a few examples:
- Emphasise student-centred and collaborative learning: Conversational AI can support student-centred and collaborative approaches to learning by providing a platform for students to engage in dialogue and exchange ideas. This can help foster a sense of agency and ownership over their own learning and encourage the development of critical thinking skills.
- Promote inclusivity and equity: Conversational AI can be designed to be inclusive and accessible to all learners, regardless of their background or circumstances. This might involve using natural language processing techniques to support a wide range of languages or designing interfaces that are easy to use and navigate.
- Encourage reflection and critical thinking: Conversational AI can facilitate reflective and critical thinking by prompting students to consider different perspectives and reflect on their own learning. This can help students to develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter and to gain new insights.
- Address potential biases: It is important to be aware of the potential biases that may be present in conversational AI and to take steps to address these. This might involve designing AI systems trained on diverse data sets or including diverse voices in the development and design process.
We must approach any conversational AI tool in education with a critical and reflective mindset and consider the potential impacts and implications of these technologies on students, teachers, and society as a whole. Using conversational AI in teaching and learning can enhance and augment traditional instructional approaches rather than replace them. Chat-based learning can effectively provide personalised and engaging learning experiences for students and support instructors' work. Additionally, view pedagogical constructs like chat-based learning through a constructivist lens: people are not passive receivers of information but individuals who have substantial agency and are actively constructing their own understanding of the world through their experiences and interactions–whether physical or digital.
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Read the fourth post of this series here: GPT-3 and Me: Is Conversational AI the End of Education as We Know It? (Part IV)
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