Educators say using artificial intelligence and virtual reality in classrooms requires limits

Technology in US classrooms will take a notch up this year as research shows virtual reality, artificial intelligence and gamification will be among the top education trends in 2023.

High-tech and gaming-related components are fast becoming a new reality in classrooms, and some teachers are concerned.

Part of this is because this is happening against a backdrop of rising anxiety and depression among students.

Since the return to face-to-face classes in 2021, problematic behavior has also increased.

Students sit with their laptops at St. Joseph Catholic School in La Puente, California on November 16, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Then there are falling grades that need to be addressed. Test scores across multiple subjects and age groups in the United States hit historic lows in 2022.

As a result, many US educators suggest that over-reliance on cutting-edge technology could handicap students without proper guidelines.

Others say creating less face-to-face time in the classroom would ignore important lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we’ve learned anything from the world and education shutdown during the peak of COVID, it’s that students missed out on a lot during their time online,” Pamela Morris told The Epoch Times.

Morris is the director of early childhood education in Chandler, Arizona. She found that much of life’s learning occurs through face-to-face interactions. This is especially true for younger children.

In your opinion, a reduction in face-to-face learning could have negative consequences.

Epoch Times photo
Demonstration of the Owo Vest, which allows users to feel physical sensations during Metaverse experiences at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on January 5, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Longer screen time has been linked to behavioral problems in students, including poor concentration, depression and anxiety. Morris suggests that introducing more technology into classrooms could make things worse.

“All an educator has to do is see what their students look like when they’re texting their friends,” Morris said.

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“They become restless, lose concentration and are often irritable when the device has to be put down. I think it would be irresponsible to make this kind of learning a big part of the day.”

During the pandemic, students’ social skills have been severely impacted by a lack of physical interactions with their peers. In turn, it caused a wave of depression and anxiety in children of all ages.

“I go back to COVID and the amount of socialization that has been lost,” she said, adding, “This has impacted students so negatively that some have decided to wear a mask just to hide.”

But as the saying goes: progress cannot be stopped.

A report predicts that the growth of augmented and virtual reality (VR) in education will grow more than 18 percent through 2027. The market for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in education represented a $3.7 billion industry in 2022 and is expected to grow to more than $20 billion within the next four years.

Gamification already has a foot in the door with today’s youth. As of 2019, 73 percent of American children ages 2 and older play video games daily.

Predetermined Results

Other educators say that amidst the onslaught on mainstream tools like AI, VR and gamification, there’s an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. Where do we go from here and for what purpose is this technology used?

Former superintendent, teacher and college advisor Gary Marks says policy is needed before technology is ramped up in classrooms.

“Personally, I believe that all innovative teaching methods should evolve, but with specific goals that should be developed before new ideas and predetermined outcomes are implemented,” Marks told The Epoch Times.

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He says time management is important and believes tools like AI and VR absolutely need to be complementary in education.

“If the school board believes that technology will be more than complementary, I fear this is a George Orwellian scenario from 1984,” he said.

“If AI, VR and video games become the mainstream teaching method, the world is in for a major meltdown. Students will not make decisions based on normal human behavior, but based on a robot or game that does not correspond to reality.”

Many tech advocates say things like AI and VR aren’t going to replace teachers in the classroom. Although the CEO of STEM4Real, Dr. Leena Bakshi McLean said some educators are already moving in that direction.

“I recently saw an ed tech company advertise that its teaching is through technology, not teachers,” McLean told The Epoch Times.

She warns admins and executives against replacing teachers with technology, but adds that tools like AI and VR could be great additions.

“None of these trends can replace the authentic relationships, mentoring and guidance of teachers,” she said.

Changed behavior

Advanced technology brings some benefits. Things like better hand-eye coordination and new opportunities for creativity are among the benefits.

On the other side of the coin, it promotes behavioral challenges such as increased aggression, underdeveloped social skills, and an inability to focus.

“The increased use of AI, VR and game-based technology will absolutely add to the difficulty of focus and behavioral challenges.
especially when these tools are used to replace teachers,” McLean said, adding, “This can potentially and completely dehumanize education.”

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She says the use of cutting-edge technology in the classroom has potential, but – like Marks – McLean believes it needs to be limited.

During a 2022 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 56 percent of US schools reported higher incidents of classroom disruption and misconduct.

49 percent reported scuffles outside of class, and 48 percent reported acts of disrespect toward teachers and staff.

“As with most things in our society, a balance is required. For young, developing minds, this skill needs to be continuously taught and strengthened,” added Marks.

He noted that while tools like AI and VR will change human behavior, interactions between people will always be necessary to develop important problem-solving skills and coping mechanisms.

McLean agrees with that sentiment, saying it’s about balance.

“As a parent, I strive to ensure that we limit screen time as much as possible for my child’s development. However, I also want to be aware of the emerging technologies that I want my child to learn.”

Autumn Spredeman

Autumn is a South America-based reporter who primarily covers Latin American issues for The Epoch Times.