Saturday, March 23, 2024

How About AI Lesson Plans?

Some Brooklyn schools are piloting an AI assistant that will create lesson plans for them. 

Superintendent Janice Ross explains it this way. “Teachers spend hours creating lesson plans. They should not be doing that anymore.”

The product is YourWai (get it?) courtesy of The Learning Innovation Catalyst (LINC), a company that specializes in "learning for educators that works/inspires/motivates/empowers." They're the kind of company that says things like "shift to impactful professional learning focused on targeted outcomes" unironically. Their LinkedIn profile says "Shaping the Future of Learning: LINC supports the development of equitable, student-centered learning by helping educators successfully shift to blended, project-based, and other innovative learning models." You get the idea.

LINC was co-founded by Tiffany Wycoff, who logged a couple of decades in the private school world before writing a book, launching a speaking career, and co-founding LINC in 2017. Co-founder Jaime Pales used to work for Redbird Advanced Learning as executive director for Puerto Rico and Latin America and before that "developed next-generation learning programs" at some company. 

LINC has offices in Florida and Colombia. 

YourWai promises to do lots of things so that teachers can get "90% of your work done in 10% of the time." Sure. Ross told her audience that teachers just enter students' needs and the standards they want to hit and the app will spit out a lesson plan. It's a "game changer" that will give teachers more time to "think creatively." 

These stories are going to crop up over and over again, and every story ought to include this quote from Cory Doctorow:
We’re nowhere near the point where an AI can do your job, but we’re well past the point where your boss can be suckered into firing you and replacing you with a bot that fails at doing your job.

Look, if you ask AI to write a lesson plan for instructing students about major themes in Hamlet, the AI is not going to read Hamlet, analyze the themes, consider how best to guide students through those themes, and design an assessment that will faithfully measure those outcomes. What it's going to do is look at a bunch of Hamlet lesson plans that it found on line (some of which may have been written by humans, some of which may have been cranked out by some amateur writing for online corner-cutting site, and some of which will have been created by other AI) and mush them all together. Oh, and throw in shit that it just made up. 

There are undoubtedly lessons for which AI can be useful--cut and dried stuff like times tables and preposition use. But do not imagine that the AI has any idea at all of what it is doing, nor that it has any particular ability to discern junk from quality in the stuff it sweeps up on line. Certainly the AI has zero knowledge of pedagogy or instructional techniques.

But this "solution" will appeal because it's way cheaper than, say, hiring enough teachers so that individual courseloads are not so heavy that paperwork and planning take a gazillion hours. 

This will certainly enable teachers who are either overwhelmed or lazy. It certainly shortens the process for teachers who regularly consult with Dr. Google for their lesson planning. But I would certainly wonder about an administrator who not only allowed it, but encouraged it. 

There's no question that lesson planning can be a time-consuming burden, but there are far better ways to deal with that issue than an AI lesson planning assistant. This is not how we get high quality teaching materials into the classroom. 


Courtesy of the New York Post

I missed the third co-founder of LINC, Jason Green, who turns out to be an old buddy of NYC school chancellor David Banks. Also, the Yourwai website appears to feature a bunch of fake testimonials. "Well, we just used fake names to anonymize the testifiers," says the company. Sure. 

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