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Taught by a Bot: How some schools use AI tutors in the classroom

While some schools resist their students’ use of chatbots, others are inviting them into the classroom.

What’s new: Some primary and secondary schools in the United States are testing an automated tutor built by online educator Khan Academy, The New York Times reported. Users of the Khanmigo chatbot include public schools in New Jersey and private schools like Silicon Valley’s Khan Lab School (established by Khan Academy founder Sal Khan).

How it works: Khanmigo is based on GPT-4. Instead of providing answers outright, it responds to inquiries with questions meant to encourage critical thinking.

  • Khanmigo is integrated with Khan Academy’s previous tutoring software, which poses questions for students to answer. A student who has trouble answering can open the chatbot and ask for assistance.
  • In addition, the chatbot offers vocabulary practice, assistance in writing stories, debates (example: “Are video games good or bad for kids?”), and the ability to chat with simulated historical figures like Harriet Tubman or fictional characters like Don Quixote. It also helps to navigate university admissions and financial aid.
  • Teachers can view student conversations with the chatbot, and the system will notify them if it notices a conversation that may have taken a dangerous turn. They can also use it to create lesson plans, write classroom exercises, and refresh their own knowledge.
  • Currently, Khanmigo is available only to a few schools among more than 500 Khan Academy customers. The organization plans to make it available via a waitlist, giving priority to financial donors and current customers.

Behind the news: Chegg, which maintains a cadre of tutors to help students with homework, recently lost 48 percent of its market value after the company’s CEO said ChatGPT had dampened subscriber growth. Chegg plans to launch a GPT-4-based chatbot called CheggMate next year.

Why it matters: Some educators oppose ChatGPT over concerns that it enables cheating, fuels plagiarism, and spreads misinformation. Meanwhile, many students prefer it to human tutors because it’s available around the clock, according to one survey. By offering a chatbot that leads students to an answer rather than providing it outright, Khan Academy’s approach may assuage educators’ concerns while satisfying student preferences.

We’re thinking: While large language models can be used to avoid learning, there’s much more to be gained by harnessing them to accelerate and enrich it. We hope Khan Academy’s approach catches on.


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