Inside the Push to Bring AI Literacy to Schools and Colleges

Will AI literacy soon become as important a subject to teach in schools as reading, writing and math?

Many education leaders think so, as ChatGPT and other new generative AI tools sweep into daily life. After all, it’s not every day that a technology comes along that is widely compared to the printing press in terms of how influential it could be.

And there is an emerging push to bring AI literacy to schools and colleges. In fact, it’s a rare issue that has bipartisan support. Last month, two members of congress — Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., and Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind. — introduced a bill called the “Artificial Intelligence Literacy Act” that would add funding for AI literacy efforts to an existing digital equity law. And in October, the White House issued an executive order that attempts to set standards for AI safety, including around AI’s role in transforming education.

But what exactly is AI literacy? The tech is still in a volatile stage of development, with competing offerings from both tech giants and upstart players. And there are thorny and unresolved ethical issues around how much and in what instances it’s appropriate to have a bot perform tasks that were once thought only things that humans could or should do.

There’s also the question of how AI literacy fits into efforts to teach coding skills in schools. After all, one of the biggest applications of generative AI so far is to use the tools to write computer code.

We dig into these issues on this week’s EdSurge Podcast, where we hear from two experts working to expand educational efforts around AI, to make sure those efforts reach traditionally underserved communities, and to work to expand engagement with ethical issues of the technology.

Those guests are:

  • Susan Gonzales, who founded the nonprofit AIandYou to spread AI literacy. She is a member of President Biden’s National AI Advisory Committee and a co-author of the 2022 World Economic Forum report, “A Blueprint for Inclusivity in AI.”
  • Leo Lo, a professor of libraries and learning sciences at the University of New Mexico who recently led a survey of librarians about the need to address the ethical and privacy concerns raised by AI. He is president-elect of the Association of College and Research Libraries

Gonzales brings the perspective of someone who used to work in big tech, having served as a director of community engagement and policy at Facebook for five years.

For her, a big concern is overcoming a fear of the tools, or a sense that they are too complicated to learn. After all, she says, if educators haven’t worked with tools like ChatGPT firsthand, they won’t be able to effectively teach their students about them.

“What’s needed the most particularly in education is to prompt a curiosity to learn more about AI,” she argues.

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