One in two Alberta teachers have explored the use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in their professional or personal lives within the past six months. This is one of the findings of a recent, and highly representative, ATA research study from December 2023 that surveyed 2,148 members (1,934 teachers and 214 school leaders).
A common thread that emerges from this December 2023 survey is teachers’ call for increased professional involvement in AI policy and practice in K–12 education. It is a plea for a deeper understanding of this force, and a dire need for explicit policy guidance on its use as an emerging technology in education systems. These Alberta teachers, who stand on the front lines of our future, are keenly aware of the potential that AI has to reshape our profession and are expressing a genuine desire to navigate this transformation thoughtfully.
This powerful new tool (or in some cases AI collaborator) comes with an even greater responsibility, and Alberta’s teachers are grappling with a host of concerns about AI’s impact on education. The survey paints a nuanced picture: one-third of respondents believe AI advancements will enhance teaching and learning, another third view this future with skepticism and the final third remains uncertain. It’s clear that the debate is just beginning, and Alberta’s teaching profession is eager to engage in meaningful conversations about the role of AI in their classrooms.
Erosion of trust
Interestingly, there is a positive correlation between the frequency of using AI tools and a positive outlook on AI’s role in education. Those who have integrated AI into their teaching methods are more likely to see the benefits it can bring to Alberta’s K–12 education system. However, concerns are still widespread despite this positivity, with 80 to 90 per cent of respondents worrying about AI’s potential negative effects.
Among these concerns is the fear that AI could erode trust in the teaching profession by leaving important moral decisions to machines — moral passivity. Teachers are also worried about the possibility of cognitive atrophy in students, such as reduced memory and critical thinking skills, which may fundamentally alter their abilities to become active and engaged citizens.
Additionally, there’s a growing apprehension about the impact of AI on equity, with 59 per cent of respondents fearing that uneven access to AI tools could exacerbate educational disparities among students — an issue in a world where inequities continue to grow, and the Matthew effect takes hold (rich get richer and the poor get poorer).
Surprisingly, 40 per cent of teachers are not worried about AI replacing their jobs. This sentiment likely arises from their deep understanding of the complex, highly relational aspects of teaching and learning that cannot be easily replicated by machines. Nonetheless, a substantial six in 10 of Alberta educators do not believe their schools are adequately prepared to harness AI technologies effectively for the benefit of both students and teachers.
Despite these concerns, Alberta’s teachers are not shying away from the integration of AI in public education. They are using AI as a tool to enhance student learning, ease administrative burdens and foster a critical understanding of AI among their students. Their innovative approaches showcase the transformative potential of AI in education. By incorporating AI, teachers are creating more interactive and engaged learning experiences while also preparing students for a future where AI is an integral part of everyday life.
Alberta’s teachers and school leaders are true pioneers in the AI education frontier, and their journey is filled with challenges and opportunities. As they continue to grapple with ethical considerations, curriculum development and questions surrounding equity, it’s clear that their dedication to providing the best possible education for our children and youth remains unwavering.
The future of education in Alberta is being shaped by the dynamic synergy between human teachers and artificial intelligence, and the journey has only just begun. It will be our job to ensure that every child continues to have a teacher to help them flourish into the future, and that the highly relational spaces of teaching and learning remain predominantly human. ❚
Teachers’ outlook on the future impact of AI on education and learning
|POSITIVE (somewhat or very)
|NEGATIVE (somewhat or very)
|NEITHER positive nor negative
Emerging themes on AI raised by teacher survey respondents
Ethical considerations and curriculum development: Teachers question the ethical implications of using AI in planning and preparing assignments, and whether future curriculum should assume students’ regular access to AI, similar to how current curriculum considers access to calculators.
Impact on students’ skills and learning: Concerns are that AI might impede students from learning proper writing skills, with a specific focus on how it could replace students’ original voices in their writing, a key curricular outcome. Teachers worry about the potential decline in students’ problem solving, critical thinking and creativity due to AI usage.
Control and access to AI: Teachers express the need for control over student access to AI in the classroom, highlighting that a one-size-fits-all approach by districts is not sufficient. There’s a sense that education is not keeping pace with AI advancements, forcing teachers into roles as cheating detectors rather than instructional leaders.
Training and exposure to AI: Many teachers feel behind in understanding and effectively using AI in their practice. They highlight a lack of exposure and training, suggesting the need for more professional development in this area.
Equity and accessibility concerns: There’s a worry about the disparity among families in terms of access to technology like computers and Internet services, leading to concerns about certain students being left behind.
Impact on student-teacher interaction and relationships: Questions arise about how AI usage might affect the interaction between students, staff, families and the overall journey of student learning. Concerns also include the potential erosion of positive relationships between students and adults.
Creativity and originality: Teachers fear that reliance on AI could diminish genuine creativity and the ability of students to engage in original thinking and problem solving. This in a world where disinformation and misinformation is a defined and clear global risk in the near future.
Plagiarism and academic integrity: The increased difficulty in identifying AI-generated work versus student-generated work, and the potential for increased cheating on assignments are significant concerns.
Teacher work intensification and professional judgment: Worries about AI becoming just another trend in K–12 education that increases teacher workload without long-term benefits. There are also concerns about AI’s impact on teachers’ professional autonomy and judgment, with AI systems being trusted over human professional wisdom.
Policy and regulation: Questions about the lack of clear policies and discussions at the schoolboard level regarding AI’s integration into education.
Associate Coordinator, Research