top of page

Demystifying AI: A Quick Introduction for the Apprehensive Educator

By Shane Peek - Greenville County Schools


In January of 2007, while giving the keynote at an Apple conference, Steve Jobs unveiled a remarkable new device, the iPhone.  There was a collective gasp in the audience as he interacted with this strange, buttonless gadget.  He swiped between desktops, pressed on the screen to open apps, and demoed some of the capabilities.  The audience and world were captivated - we had never seen or experienced such technology before, and following that moment, the world would never be the same.  This groundbreaking technology forever altered how we communicate, interact, research, and entertain ourselves.

Like it or not, we experienced a dynamic and similar shift just over a year ago when Open AI released ChatGPT to the general public.  In five days, the website amassed over one million participants.  Now a year later, ChatGPT is interacting with 180 million active users.  But what is it?  What is ChatGPT, or, more generally, artificial intelligence?  What does this mean for the field of education, and what are some practical next steps for an apprehensive educator? What is Generative AI?

Let’s start with the term artificial intelligence.  How do we define this new technology?  Sometimes to understand what something is, it’s best to look at what it is not.  For starters, generative AI is neither magic nor an exact replica of human intelligence or emotions.  Even though its abilities seem magical - it is, at the end of the day, an insentient yet sophisticated machine trained to mimic human intelligence using deep learning to analyze data, identify patterns, and make predictions. 

While AI has had a meteoric rise in popularity in the last year, the journey of AI began in the 1950s when Alan Turing released the Turing Test, which was a simple assessment: If a computer or machine can hold a conversation without being identified as a machine, then it has demonstrated human intelligence.  The term “artificial intelligence” was also coined during this period by J. McCarthy in 1955.  Throughout the last half of the 20th century, we saw remarkable progress in technology, including the rise of the internet, personal computers, and cell phones. The 2010s saw the rise of smartphones and AI assistants, further integrating AI into our daily lives.  How does Amazon seem to know what you are likely to buy?  Why are we so captivated by social media?  How does Spotify curate an excellent playlist or Netflix suggest interesting content?  This is the result of AI - a machine using advanced algorithms, demographics, and learning patterns about our behaviors, then feeding us content intended to engage and captivate our attention.

Just over a year ago, however, we entered a new era of AI.  What’s different about ChatGPT (and the various other forms hitting the market today) is that it has generative capabilities - meaning that it's not just pre-written code performing a task; rather, it generates a new, unique response (output) when given a prompt (input).  This generative AI is pulling from massive datasets, much larger than your smart watch or home device, and this data trains the machine using an algorithm known as a Large Language Model (LLM).  If it feels natural when you ask ChatGPT a question, that’s because it’s trained to respond by Natural Language Processing (NLP), and this ability is only improving with every interaction. Why should we explore this technology?

A lot of discussion around AI focuses on the fears surrounding AI in education.  How do we ban, control this new technology, and prevent plagiarism or cheating?  While there is space for these discussions, they may ultimately be futile unless we’re committed to living in a world without the internet, Google Maps, and Netflix.  Educators are adaptable - it’s who we are.  We’ve seen and succeeded through the rise of the TI84 calculators, search engines, and 1:1 devices (all of which were feared at their time of introduction, but are now integral parts of our educational system).  Therefore, I would encourage us to shift our thinking and consider reasons to explore rather than fear AI.

Personalized Learning - Since classrooms across SC shifted to 1:1 over a decade ago, we’ve focused a lot on personalized learning.  AI has the ability to help us make leaps and bounds in this pursuit.  Imagine if you had a personal assistant to help you reach every student’s academic needs by providing real-time and personalized feedback, creating learning plans, evaluating their writing, or offering suggestions as they work on assignments.

Accessibility - My daughter communicates with a speech device that feels like we’re interacting with something using a dial-up modem from 2002.  It’s unwieldy, outdated, and anything but user-friendly.  What if we harnessed the power of AI to serve our students with disabilities or accessibility needs?  Currently, AI has the ability to create video captions and transcripts for students hearing impairments, build alternative formats for materials, and translate materials, but it is exciting to consider ways that AI could serve our Special Education students (and educators).

Time Maximizer - While an educator’s responsibilities have grown tremendously over the last three decades, time availability has not.  What if we viewed AI as a personal assistant that can accomplish lower level tasks, which frees us to focus on more important challenges? Currently, AI can automate grading, offer individualized feedback, develop writing prompts and DOK-leveled questions, as well as create lesson plans and activities.

Content Creation - AI has the ability to create all sorts of content for educators such as generating quizzes, reading passages, closure activities, discussion questions, and slide decks.

Here to stay - Last but not least, AI is here to stay.  Like it or not, this is not a fad or fringe technology - and its importance and prevalence will continue to grow.  Educators are nothing if not adaptable and dedicated to learning.  So we would be wise to educate ourselves so that we can equip our students for a future where artificial intelligence plays a more prominent and significant role in their daily lives.

As we reflect on the meteoric rise of generative AI, what steps can the apprehensive educator take?  This will be explored further in a future SCASCD post, but, for now, open the box.  Sign up for a ChatGPT account and start small.  Ask the chatbot a few simple questions, then reflect and revise.  AI is not a passing trend, but a tool that, when understood and harnessed, can open doors to personalized learning, improved accessibility, efficient time utilization, and content creation, so experiment for yourself and share your experiences with a teammate or colleague.  These simple steps and conversations will allow even the apprehensive educators to harness the power of AI in classrooms across the state of South Carolina.


About the Author

Shane serves as an Instructional Technology Facilitator with Greenville County Schools where he irons the capes of the true superheroes (teachers). As just one member of a dynamic team, his mission is to grow and equip teachers through professional development, co-teaching, model lessons, growth cycles, and one-on-one brainstorming sessions. To learn more, reach out to Shane by email at or follow him on LinkedIn or X (Twitter) @ShaneRPeek.



bottom of page