How AI Can Transform Education: Insights From Sal Khan

Blog post Ashley Shaw, SREB Communications Specialist

Advice from Sal Khan to the sreb commission on Ai in education

Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform education and rather than shying away from it, many educational leaders are encouraging schools to embrace AI by introducing it into the classroom.

At the recent SREB Commission on AI in Education meeting in Dallas, Texas, Brad Smith, president of Marshall University, sat down with Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy and author of Brave New Words: How AI Will Revolutionize Education (and Why That’s a Good Thing) to determine how Khan feels about this growing AI trend.

The discussion delved into the transformative potential of AI in education, touching on various aspects that are set to revolutionize learning and teaching.

How AI Can Evolve the Way We Teach

As states have prioritized standardized testing where it is hard to measure skills like creativity, design and open-ended writing, classrooms have also shifted away from focusing on these skills.

We’re going to allow students to show their thinking, design something, and we’re going to be able to use AI to make sense of that.

Khan sees a world in which AI allows better ways to measure the skills that have traditionally been hard to measure, which will allow students to gain opportunities to invent and create in the classroom.   

“We’re going to allow students to show their thinking, design something, and we’re going to be able to use AI to make sense of that,” Khan said.

How AI Connects to Career Education

Ultimately, we want students to be able to complete their education with job opportunities. The success skills employees want are general skills, such as communication and creative thinking, so finding ways to integrate those into the classroom is already a step in the right direction. However, there is more to it than just that.

AI is already part of the workforce, wherever you are.

“AI is already part of the workforce, wherever you are,” Khan said, highlighting the importance of connecting education with real-world applications.

AI can help bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical skills, making learning more relevant and impactful. Giving students these technical skills will help them in their future careers.

How AI Can Help Create Personalized Learning

 Khan Academy began when Khan’s cousin needed math tutoring. As he began to tutor his young cousin, he quickly realized she was struggling due to a knowledge gap from a few years before. Until she filled that gap, she did not have the foundational math skills.  Khan worked with her to find the gap and correct it, which made learning the remainder lessons much easier. It also led to many other tutoring requests for Khan.

Khan Academy is built on this customized learning process, and it is here that Khan sees some of the greatest potential in AI in education. In his program, students are encouraged to master a lesson before they move on. In a classroom of 30, though, this can be difficult to do because the teacher cannot work with each individual student until they master the topic.

AI can help change this, though. Through AI tools, teachers are better able to customize lessons and get detailed grading reports that helps them spot a student’s key gaps quickly.

Imagine if you had a tool that would tell you, “These five students are struggling with X topic. These three need to work on Y. This group of six needs help with Z. The rest of the class is ready to move on to the next unit.”

Then, the same tool could suggest potential lessons for each of those groups. This would allow a teacher to correct learning gaps before they grow and work with individualized plans all without adding more work to an already overworked schedule.

“AI is going to be able to do that,” Khan said. “It will allow teachers to give students practice on a wider range of skills and assess them in more creative ways.”

How AI Can Actually Help Stop Academic Dishonesty

One of the most commons concerns about AI in education is the potential to make cheating easier. However, Khan says there is potential for AI to help decrease academic dishonesty.

We need to build tools that act as ethical writing coaches, helping students develop their ideas and write better essays.

There are two main ways he sees this happening.

  1. AI has the potential to help students build writing skills and confidence, eliminating some of the most common reasons students choose to plagiarize.

“We need to build tools that act as ethical writing coaches, helping students develop their ideas and write better essays,” Khan said. Through things like modeling and personalized learning, AI can one day be the tool that helps accomplish this.

  1. AI has the potential to make it easier for instructors to catch plagiarism.

While there are currently AI tools that are designed to do this, he sees these tools becoming more advanced.

When these tools are integrated into the classroom, instructors can use them to design projects and have students work with the tools to find gaps in their writing and to recognize the patterns.

For example, an AI tool might work with the student as a writing coach, and then send a report to the instructor with feedback on the student’s report, such as where they struggled, where they excelled and what grade they deserve. Here is what happened in this example:

  1. The teacher got a writing tool that made customized lessons easier and gave the student more opportunities to build their writing skills.
  2. The AI found learning gaps the student may have had and worked with them to improve those skills.  
  3. The teacher received a report that not only let them know about those gaps, but also gave them an accuracy report based on the student’s past writing style instead of based on the typical paper, making it a more reliable test.
  4. The report also gave an overview of the paper, with a recommended grade, taking away some of the grading time for the student.

Final Thoughts

While Khan sees great potential in AI, he did also recognize that if every student does not have access to these tools, then it will only increase the digital divide.

“Our goal is to keep pushing what world-class education is, including using AI, and trying to make it as accessible as possible,” Khan said.

This is an important goal of the SREB Commission, too. We can talk about the potential benefits of AI all the time, but if students cannot use the tools, then they cannot get the benefits. This is one thing that the commission takes into account as they work.

Stay tuned for more updates on the integration of AI in education and how it continues to shape the future of learning