The AI assessment emergency

Opinion post alert! As I continue to listen and explore discussions around artificial intelligence (AI) and education, I have come to the conclusion we are in a state of emergency!! What I am observing is an attempt to apply the potential and challenges of artificial intelligence to a system that continues to refuse to wake up to reality. 

AI and assessment

One of the huge concerns at the moment in terms of AI is assessment, which brings a number of questions to mind (the same questions have been on a conveyor belt in my head for a long time now). Why and what are we assessing? Are we assessing to compare one student against another? To maintain quality assurance? Quality assurance of what? Or are we assessing to test one’s ability to remember (we have known for decades this isn’t ideal yet state exams still remain)? Or are assessments being used to test one’s ability to meet deadlines? Or one’s ability to tell the marker what they want to hear/read?

Let’s set these aside and say assessment is to evidence one’s ability to demonstrate the learning outcomes (LOs); there are multiple ways and at multiple points in time that learning outcomes can be demonstrated. Inevitably educators are forced to fit the demonstration of LOs into a quality assurance system that continues to be restrictive and causes fear. It is this system that, in my opinion, is the most challenged by AI. Some suggested solution include AI detectors, going back to handwritten submissions, interviews/oral tests, digital timed in class assessments, timed and observed problem solving scenarios etc.

Cheating has been around for decades

Students have cheated the ‘system’ and will continue to cheat the system with or without AI, AI simply exacerbates and magnifies the issue. Have we asked ourselves why students are attempting to cheat the system? Have we reviewed motivation and levels of engagement? Have we asked ourselves what we hope our students will gain by the end of school? Have we asked ourselves what the purpose of our education system is?

Purpose of education

One would have to assume, at some level, we are hopeful our students will succeed in life; hence this is the purpose of education. However, at a societal level, what does success actually look like? Is success the student that works hard and sacrifices time with friends and family to trawl through resources and spend hours writing an assignment to get a high grade? Or is success the student who has problem solved and found a (potentially unethical) way around a system that would see him/her/they being stressed and missing out on fun? Perhaps assessment is testing a students ability to maintain work life balance, yet I have never seen work life balance in an LO? I am not advocating cheating, I am questioning an education system which refuses to review its purpose in the face of continued technological and societal changes.

From recent discussions, what I am hearing is not an education system that is finally going to look at these questions but a system that is going to try to add new (AI) to the old (restricted knowledge and process based assessment). Really? Where is this going to get us?

AI and assessment: surely it is time to actually implement change!

Image of exam classroom in 1850. Beside it similar image of exam in 2023 and beside that a female with futuristic glasses and augmented reality all around her.
Images created using Midjourney.

Imagine an education system where students want to learn, enjoy learning, build relationships, want to return to their learning experience and do it all over again. Now imagine an education system that is going to continue to test students’ ability to do what AI can do in seconds. Where is the sense? We have pockets of a reimagined education system occurring throughout the country but structures, cultures and policies restrict any further movement towards these.

It is time to discuss what is stopping education from implementing required changes as yet another technological advancement that cannot be outrun, suppressed or restricted floods our classrooms. Yes change is scary, but it is an awful lot scarier listening to education trying to find ways of keeping old structures, an outdated purpose and inequitable and nonsensical forms of assessment alive in the face of AI.

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