NHED moves to bring AI into classrooms across New Hampshire as part of a pilot program

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an emerging topic in education: from grade school to college, teachers, students, parents, and school leaders are thinking about ways to safely and effectively integrate technology into the classroom. 

New Hampshire may be at the forefront of this movement: the NH Department of Education (NHED) is pursuing a multi-million dollar contract with Khan Academy to pilot their AI-powered teaching and tutoring tool, Khanmigo, to teachers and students in grades 5-12 across the state. If approved, New Hampshire would be the first state in Khan Academy’s pilot program for the AI tool.

While AI technology is growing and developing, tech companies like Khan Academy are working to develop tools for schools to infuse it into their classrooms. For teachers, Khanmigo would help with everything from lesson planning, assessment and grading, and learning objectives, to drafting emails to families. For students, it would help with tutoring, college admissions, career coaching, and coding skills. New Hampshire’s teachers and students would serve as tests for Khan Academy’s development of the tool:

Customer acknowledges that access to Khanmigo is being offered on a pilot basis to enable Khan Academy to test, evaluate, modify and improve Al-enabled features and their classroom applications, including by collecting Customer feedback on Khanmigo. (from the NHED proposed contract, page 24)

Though there’s a lot of excitement and potential around the use of AI in the classroom, there are ethical considerations, too: “large-language model” (LLM) chatbots, like what is used by Khanmigo, have received scrutiny for ethical issues including privacy, bias, transparency, and oversight. Experts urge schools to use the technology responsibly, and to have clear goals and boundaries for the software. 

There are also concerns with the technology itself: It’s very new, and appears to still be in development. A Wall Street Journal reporter tried it and found that it made “frequent calculation errors” with basic math; others say that AI-powered tutoring could actually be counterproductive, since it removes the personal interaction between human tutors and students that is critical to learning. 

If the contract between the NH Department of Education and Khan Academy is approved by the Executive Council, public and private schools and homeschooled students across the state would have access to Khanmigo in the 2024-2025 school year. The contract does not offer any training, professional development, or technical assistance for implementation to teachers or school administrators on how to use the platform safely and effectively.

The NHED would use some of the remaining pandemic relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act 2021 to fund the $2.3 million contract. It’s unclear if the Department would pursue an extension beyond next school year, if the program were successful. 

Khanmigo is already free for teachers

The NHED’s contract with Khan Academy, submitted to the Executive Council on April 26, would include full teacher and student access to the platform. On May 15, the Councilors tabled the request and requested more time to review the software. 

But on May 21, Microsoft and Khan Academy announced a partnership that would make Khanmigo free for all teachers in the United States:

As part of the partnership, Microsoft is enabling Khan Academy to provide free access to Khanmigo for Teachers to all US educators, we’re collaborating to explore opportunities to improve AI-powered math tutoring with a new open-source small language model, and bringing high-quality education experiences to more learners. (From a Microsoft press release dated May 21, 2024). 

It’s unclear how, or if, the NHED would revise the proposed contract in light of this development since the Khanmigo for Teachers was part of the agreed-upon services. 

The proposed contract provides Khan Academy with a lump-sum payment of $2.3 million once the Executive Council approves the contract, regardless of platform usage or performance metrics. That means that even if no district or school uses the platform, Khan Academy gets paid $2.3 million. 

The next meeting of the Executive Council is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29. 

AI in the classroom: Lots of potential, but concerns remain

AI tools in the classroom can be powerful in streamlining teaching and accelerating student learning. According to the U.S. National Science Foundation, AI can help to “support, reimagine, and transform learning and teaching.” 

“Artificial intelligence (AI) can support education by automating administrative tasks, freeing teachers to focus more on teaching and personalized interactions with students, enhancing rather than replacing human-led teaching,” according to the World Economic Forum. 

Common Sense Media rated Khanmigo as the top AI-powered learning platform, but urges caution about the risks involved. While they applauded Khan Academy for the responsible AI development and established frameworks for use, Khanmigo struggles with math, and can provide “unreliable” and “incorrect” responses. For more about Common Sense Media’s review, and an overview of how Khanmigo and LLM programs work, read their review of the program

Experts and researchers are raising a number of concerns with AI use in the classroom, many of which are underscored in Common Sense Media’s review. Here are some critical questions that educators and school administrators should ask, from the Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell University

  • Transparency and oversight: as many generative AI are developed and owned by corporations, how can we know how the tools are trained or what safeguards exist protecting users against inaccurate information or harmful interactions?
  • Political impact: what protections exist against generative AI being used to spread inaccurate or discriminatory content?
  • Environmental impact: as generative AI tools are trained with ever larger data sets, requiring more and more energy consumption, what is the energy use impact on the environment?
  • Diversity, non-discrimination, and fairness: how can we ensure that tools avoid unfair bias and are universally accessible?
  • Privacy, data governance, technical robustness, and safety: how is user data or copyrighted material used, stored, or shared? Who has access to user data?

While some of these concerns are addressed in the NHED’s contract with Khan Academy, most of them are not. 

In addition, the technology behind software platforms like Khanmigo is relatively new. Research has indicated that information retrieval isn’t always accurate, and programs can “hallucinate” facts (where the responses given by the software are based on inaccurate or biased data). While tech companies and researchers are working on making the tools more accurate, many are cautious about introducing an imperfect tool into schools. 

But teachers are already using AI-powered tools in their classrooms — with boundaries. “The challenge lies in how we, as educators, guide our students in harnessing the potential of AI tools like ChatGPT. We must teach them to use these tools responsibly, to understand their workings, to question their outputs and to critically engage with them,” writes Jack Dougall, a high school teacher in an article for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). 

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is predicted to be the largest disruptive change we will experience in our lifetimes—even more significant than the internet. And while AI has the potential to provide enormous benefit, without the widespread adoption of responsible AI practices, it is equally capable of causing harm,” according to Common Sense Media. 

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