The Michigan Education Association is all-in on artificial intelligence in the classroom, highlighting efforts by some educators to leverage the technology they claim “democratizes education.”

Michigan’s largest teachers union last month featured a 30-year special education teacher in Utica who believes AI is the way of the future, and is using it as a “Swiss Army knife” in the classroom to “pull everybody in.”

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“I’ve always integrated technology for transformative teaching and learning experiences for my students, but I’m so, so, so excited to have lived this long – 56 years – to be able to interface with technology of this magnitude that just absolutely democratizes education,” MEA member Kecia Waddell told the MEA.

Waddell, who began using ChatGPT last year, said she leverages AI for a variety of purposes, both for her and her students.

Waddell employs AI “like a dragnet to discover ideas or frameworks I’m not considering,” she said, allowing her to “constantly stay in a mode of thinking divergently.”

“It jump starts thoughts,” Waddell told the MEA.

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Waddell used AI with students in a similar way last year, uploading student source notes into ChatGPT to organize the material on their behalf into specific topics like race and psychological and cultural norms.

“You’d be amazed how interesting the topic of lipstick becomes through the lens of environmental concerns,” she said. “It seems unlikely, but this is the brilliance of this approach with my students: Take high-interest subject matter plus academic research, add generative AI and whoa! Deep engagement and ease in student comprehension.”

Waddell, who teaches middle school students online, acknowledges there’s concerns students will use AI to cheat, but argued the benefits for educators outweigh those risks.

“I need my colleagues to learn how to use this tool to solve real problems we face, with the constraints we have, and allow what (theorist Lev) Vygotsky calls ‘the most knowledgeable other’ to help us fill those gaps,” she said.

The MEA’s cheerleading for AI in the classroom comes as educators elsewhere are warning about a list of concerns with the technology, from students creating deepfake nude images of their classmates, to bias and misinformation from source materials, to issues centering on the environment, ethics and plagiarism, according to CommonSense.org.

Top leaders in the AI field – more than 350 executives, researchers and engineers – have also warned about the potential for AI to destroy humanity, calling for government intervention to control development and mitigate risks, according to The New York Times.

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from A.I. should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks, such as pandemics and nuclear war,” read an open letter from the Center for AI Safety signed by industry leaders last year.

A survey of 500 educators from around the U.S. conducted by Forbes Advisor in October found about 60% use AI in their classrooms in some capacity. Of those who do, 55% reported improved educational outcomes, while 18% said AI hindered progress, 17% said there was no significant impact, and 10% were unsure.

The most common uses for AI included educational games (51%), adaptive learning platforms (43%), automated grading and feedback systems (41%), chatbots for student support (35%), and intelligent tutoring systems (29%).

About 65% of teachers surveyed expressed concerns about plagiarism, while 62% cited potential reduction of human interaction in learning, 42% worried about data privacy, and 30% cited unequal access and job displacement as potential problems.

A majority of respondents told Forbes they’ve already observed students using AI to cheat. The most common method involved AI essay generators to complete writing assignments (64%), followed by using voice assistance during exams (31%), translation tools during assessments (29%), and AI generated code for coding assignments (28%).

“Ninety-eight percent of our survey respondents identified a need for at least some education on ethical AI usage,” Forbes reports. “More than 60% recommended comprehensive education.”