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AI for All Children – For a More Hopeful Future

Julie Marie Frye

July 15, 2021

Nearly five years ago, I observed Jamie McQueen, introducing Whitby School 7th grade learners to Boston Analytics’ Atlas during his Language & Literature course. Learners were captivated with Atlas’s technology and began reimagining a future where artificial intelligence (AI) ran the world. Jamie’s See, Think, Wonder on Atlas impelled learners back to the common reader for the course, The Giver, in order to see where Lois Lowry’s science fiction plot would take them.

“Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything” (Lowry, The Giver, p. 157).

During my observation of the lesson, I noticed Jamie’s teaching and curriculum expertise; however, what struck me was the extraordinarily high level of student engagement with and knowledge of artificial intelligence. Every learner, according to my observation data, was intellectually invested in both small and large group classroom discourse. That day, Jamie planted a seed in my teaching practice; I knew I needed to explore artificial intelligence as a pedagogical tool.

“We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others” (Lowry, The Giver, p. 95)

I began talking about AI with learners in higher education, specifically at Bridge, a summer experience for incoming freshmen transitioning to collegiate life at IUPUI. I used AI as a jumping on place for learners to explore what critical thinking, reading, and writing skills they wanted to acquire while at the university, for their future careers (that may not have yet been created in the workforce). But talking about AI, and its ethical implications, in comparison to teaching AI were different things. I wanted to do more, and so did my students.

“And you have the courage. I will help you have the strength” (Lowry, The Giver, p. 157)

When I read D’Ignazio & Klein’s (2020) Data Feminism, I was struck that the “biggest threat from artificial intelligence systems is not that they will become smarter than humans, but rather that [elite white men] will hard-code sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination into the digital infrastructure of our societies” (p. 29). I finally pieced together my interest in AI and my commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion.

Thus, when I saw the promotion of the Innovation, Disruption, Enquiry, & Access (IDEA) Institute on Artificial Intelligence, I applied. What I learned at the Institute from Nicole Coleman, Claudia Engel, as well as some outstanding co-participants, helped me realize that AI wasn’t an engaging, separate component of the information literacy and/or inquiry programme in school libraries or makerspaces. Rather, it is integral to the existing curriculum that supports learners’ understanding of, participation in, and reflection on data collection within the information literacy and inquiry programme.

Things could change… Things could be different…there must be some way for things to be different (Lowry, The Giver, p. 128).

We ensure a more hopeful future, one without privileged bias hardcoded into our digital infrastructures, when we support diverse learners’ identification as data and information scientists at young ages. AI curriculum can and should exist in undergraduate and graduate coursework, but higher education is too late to convince young people that they belong in AI careers. School libraries are an ideal place to scaffold AI learning, and support young girls and Learners of Color, in their ongoing identity, academic, and social emotional development. School libraries are spaces where these learners begin or continue to identify as coders, designers, and builders.

This school year, I’ll be piloting an AI curriculum for elementary aged children — one that I engineered during the IDEA Institute. If you’re interested in integrating AI into your elementary library or inquiry programme, please do reach out. And if you’ve been doing AI in your school library for years, please tell us more! Let’s do this together “for all children – to whom we entrust the future” (Lowry, The Giver).

Julie Marie Frye, Ph.D.


Post Author: Julie Marie Frye, Ph.D.