Technology Tools
Technology Tools

Educators often take advantage of educational technologies as they make the shifts in instruction, teacher roles, and learning experiences that next gen learning requires. Technology should not lead the design of learning, but when educators use it to personalize and enrich learning, it has the potential to accelerate mastery of critical content and skills by all students.

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“Teachers simply didn’t know. They had heard all of the talk, kids using AI to cheat, but no one had shown them how it could be used to help kids learn.”

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not just becoming big; it's becoming exponentially big. It's a tsunami coming at us, and many are trying to figure out how to ride the wave. Business, health, and tech entrepreneurs are innovating rapidly, creating platforms and use cases that can boggle the mind. AI is transforming the way we research, write, and communicate. Even better, AI is available to all, not just a few. It has the potential to enable almost anyone to write, think, pursue solutions, create products, and pursue efforts and aspirations previously out of reach.

Student-Centered AI Toolkit

See example prompts and get tips for using AI tools to reimagine learning.

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Unfortunately, while many industries are pursuing how to use AI to improve their capacity, public schools are, as usual, all over the place. They are just at the beginning of this wild west of new digital platforms that could potentially transform how we do teaching, learning, and schooling. But educators, schools, and school systems are, in most cases, just scrambling with the challenge of how to pursue its potential in the context of a system not designed for true transformation.

The question is not whether AI could greatly empower teachers, learners, and schools to make a difference in the engagement, learning, and future lives of youth. We know this to be true. The real question is:

What would it take to harness AI to accelerate a schooling revolution?

In this piece I will focus on four key points related to the AI revolution in education:

  1. Where we are now
  2. Where we could go
  3. What it would take to get there
  4. And, where to go from here

Where We Are Now: The Fear and Challenge Is Real

Currently, the education sector's relationship with AI is characterized more by trepidation than excitement. The first fear many educators have is that students will use AI to plagiarize and cheat. The potential for AI to support learning is overlooked as most educators' have often not been exposed to what AI can actually do. Seventy-five percent of the time when I ask an educator if they are using AI, they say no. Upon which I open it up—either going straight to ChatGPT, Claude, or Perplexity AI—and start showing them how to use it. Just five minutes later they look amazed and astounded. In short, I have blown their mind. They simply didn't know. They had heard all the talk about kids using it to cheat, but no one has shown them how it could be used to help kids learn.

Another major concern, particularly for district leaders, is student data privacy. The protection of student data is critically important, so school systems are rightly reticent to put some AI platforms in the hands of their students, no less their educators. The fear is that the school will lose control of personal information that ends up in AI’s pool of data and may potentially be used.

We need to stop thinking of AI as an enemy of learning, a tool for cheating, and start thinking of AI as an unprecedented tool to accelerate learning.

The challenge I am most concerned with, in contrast, is the proliferation of AI platforms that simply reinforce how we have been traditionally doing schooling by helping educators do it more efficiently. Many educators and schools, for example, have jumped onto AI-powered platforms such as MagicSchool, Merlyn Mind, or Brisk Teaching, because they can make their work much more efficient in generating lessons, assignments, and assessments. While not all bad—for example, some of the writing feedback and project-based learning tools show promise—a lot of it falls within the same paradigm of teaching, learning, and schooling that currently constrains our thinking of what is possible. The traditional paradigm of schooling is well-entrenched in our systems and minds. It is hard for educators to break out of it if they are not given tools, resources, supports, and structures to do so.

This is where AI could potentially serve as an instrument of transformation. A transformation, you ask? From what to what?

I want to see schooling move from students simply receiving knowledge in order to regurgitate it toward students fully engaged in meaningful, authentic work. Educational writers, researchers, and activists have been pushing for learning that focuses on the development of 21st-century skills and intrinsically engaging in authentic tasks. But how? How can teachers differentiate for every student? How can teachers put learning in the hands of students? How might teachers leverage students’ intrinsic interests to engage them in learning? And how can teachers assist and support the development of skills beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic? Answering these questions of how is where AI could enable, empower, and accelerate the transformation of schooling.

Some Interesting (and Sobering) Facts about AI in Education

As of this past fall, only 18% of teachers reported using AI tools in their classrooms (Rand/CRPE).

Twenty-five percent (25%) of public K-12 teachers believe that using AI tools in education does more harm than good (Pew).

Secondary school teachers are using it more than elementary teachers.

ELA and social studies teachers are using it more than teachers in science and math.

A far higher percentage of majority-White districts (65%) are planning to provide training to their educators this school year (2023-2024) as opposed to majority non-White student districts (39%), which can continue to exacerbate the differences between majority Black and Brown vs. White communities.

Sixty percent (60%) of school districts plan to train teachers on how to use AI by the end of the 2023-2024 school year, but far fewer urban districts plan to do so (Rand/CRPE).

Very few district leaders viewed the topic of AI as “very urgent” this year. (EAB)

And, finally, the top 5 ways teachers use AI:

  1. Support students with learning differences (51%)
  2. Create quizzes and assessments (49%)
  3. Adjust content for instruction at the appropriate grade level of their students (48%)
  4. Generate lesson plans (41%)
  5. Develop assignments (40%)

My commentary on this data: Why are systems not digging in and figuring out how to use AI to personalize learning? And is it ok that the resource gap continues to grow, particularly when AI could be used to close that gap?

Where We Could Go: AI-Empowering the Possibilities

One path to AI-empowered transformation is to put AI tools directly in the hands of educators. Imagine educators working with AI tools to design learning experiences that disrupt the status quo by focusing on competencies that matter and personalizing learning for each student. For AI to be used this way, educators have to be shown how. They need to be in conversation and continued inquiry with like-minded peers to develop their skills and experience in asking the right questions, providing the right context details, and requesting the right kinds of responses when using AI platforms.

Another route to AI-empowered transformation is to put a variety of generative AI platforms (ChatGPT, Perplexity AI, Claude, Gemini, QuillBot, CoPilot AI, etc.) directly in the hands of students, so that they can use it as a learning tool. If AI can be so powerful for adults, why not our students? AI is here to stay, accelerating creativity, analysis, synthesis, designs, and decision-making, whether education is ready for it or not. But teaching students to use AI effectively, ethically, and creatively requires a complete mindshift. We need to stop thinking of AI as an enemy of learning, a tool for cheating, and start thinking of AI as an unprecedented tool to accelerate learning.

Below I share three ways that educators, schools, and district leaders can use AI to accelerate outcomes for their students, with a bias toward learner-centered and agency-oriented learning. These ideas and examples are greatly informed by my communication and collaboration with numerous educators, including: Carol Eastman, Ian Zhu, Nerel Winter, Adam Haigler, and Tom Klapp.

  1. Designing learning for learners
  2. Co-designing learning with learners
  3. Designing systems that support personalized learning

I have so many examples for using AI in support of student-centered learning that the team at NGLC and I decided to create a toolkit as a companion to this article. With this toolkit, you can go deeper into the strategies introduced here, get even more examples, and practice using AI tools yourself! 


1. Designing Learning for Learners

Upon playing with ChatGPT last summer I made it a personal mission to engage with dozens of educators from across the country to explore how it could be used to design meaningful, learner-centered experiences. I learned to provide lots of detail in my prompts that would help shape ChatGPT’s response. Here’s one example:

>I am a 9th grade English teacher in [pick your town/city] and I want to engage my students in understanding the craft of storytelling by having them write graphic novels. I will have 4 weeks to engage my students in this project. They don’t like to read. And they don’t like to write. But I am hoping if I give them a selection of graphic novels to review and we can talk about what makes a good story in talking about the elements that made the graphic novels they liked compelling, they will develop ideas for what makes a good story and then use those ideas to make their own graphic novel, creating whatever story they would like to create.

In this prompt, I told ChatGPT who I am, what output I want, and a little about my students. I have been in numerous 9th grade classrooms where students don’t like to read or write, and the primary reason is that the schooling they have experienced hasn’t assisted them in experiencing the pleasure and purpose of these essential skills—pursuing what they want to read and what they want to write—the kind of lesson that this prompt will help me design.

Through exploration, I have learned some fun tricks for prompts that help me to design more learner-centered experiences, like this one:

>Give me the plan in a table of day-to-day activities, with the activity of the day in the lefthand column, the goals of the activity in the middle column, and the 9th grade ELA common core standards that the students would be addressing in the right hand column.

Try it. It will blow your mind.

Now is everything perfect? No, and that's where your learning and skill development come in. The engagement with ChatGPT is a way to gain some initial ideas and then iterate on the design, not a way to get a final product. After you review the first response ChatGPT provides, follow up with prompts to change, add, and refine aspects of the results. For example:

>Include in the plan my students reaching out to the authors of the graphic novels and asking if they can interview them.

ChatGPT will almost instantly revise the design with this new element. Iterate again and again, adding more information, asking for tweaks, even asking for the specifics for a single activity or a script for a lesson to review and use.

2. Co-Designing Learning with Learners

For me, the truly exciting potential lies in using AI to co-design learning with students, apprenticing students on how they can design their own projects of learning by identifying something they would like to create, make, or do. They could use AI to develop the action plan—activities they would undertake over a specific period of time which would both (1) propel them to take the action, and (2) drive their learning through the actions. Let’s go back to the example of creating a graphic novel.

This scenario was one I played out with Tom Klapp and Beth Head in the Northern Cass School District in North Dakota. They told me about a 9th grader who was interested in creating a graphic novel about Global Women Leaders. I asked, “Why global women leaders?” They said it was because she had noticed a lot of articles and media about global male leaders but far less about global women leaders.

From there we role-played working with this 9th grader side-by-side to prompt ChatGPT for a design.

>I am a junior in high school and I want to write/create a graphic novel about female leaders in world history. How would I go about doing this?

>more [I often use this very simple, one-word prompt to get more ideas]

>What makes a good graphic novel?


>How would I go about skillfully creating and using visual metaphors in my graphic? [‘visual metaphors’ was one item in ChatGPT’s response list of “what makes a good graphic novel?”]

>How can I learn how to get good at symbolic detailing while creating my graphic novel? [‘symbolic detailing’ was also provided in ChatGPT’s responses to the previous prompts]

>Are there any resources (websites, organizations, and/or individuals) that could support or mentor me in creating my graphic novel

After recording the responses from ChatGPT, I switched to Perplexity AI to find national and local resources, experts, and potential mentors for this student. I find Perplexity AI more helpful for this prompt because it provides citations along with its recommendations.

>I want to write about global women leaders. What resources and platforms could I use to do so

With this planning completed and a list of resources in hand, the 9th grader can start their research on the various platforms (such as websites or online courses) and resources (local organizations, mentors, or experts) and pursue their plans. The teacher can provide support and guidance as needed for the student.

By using AI in this way, teachers can assist students to design learning that is driven by their interests, oriented around valuable competencies, and grounded in real-world, authentic projects that by design build students’ knowledge, skills, and understanding. However, AI offers even more exciting ways to co-designing learning where students get to create, innovate, and pursue ambitious real-world projects.

Using platforms like ChatGPT or Claude to co-create personalized learning plans with each student, based on that individual learner's passions and goals, can greatly hook students’ engagement in the class. They can also use tools like Perplexity AI to identify and curate resources to support those unique learning journeys. In this vision, the educator's role shifts to helping each learner design their own path, document evidence of their growth, and ultimately present their learning to peers, teachers, and family. This flips the script in several powerful ways:

  1. It places students firmly in the driver's seat of their own learning.
  2. It immerses students in learning experiences where they are creating, making, and doing instead of passively absorbing information.
  3. It builds students’ capacity to design their own learning paths.
  4. It empowers students to document and demonstrate evidence of their growth.
  5. It enables students to leverage AI tools to amplify their ability to learn, create, and achieve their goals.

Imagine a student who is fascinated by a topic—skateboarding, tiny homes, PH-sensors, music production, anything really—using ChatGPT to brainstorm and evaluate project ideas, Claude to break down a project plan into actionable steps, and Perplexity AI to dive deep into the research—on their own, with AI as their assistant and amplifier. That is learner-centered, competency-based education at its best.

Designing and Building a Tiny Home

>I am a 12th grader who lives in Warrenton NC. I want to build a tiny home to sell. I have 2 months to do this. To learn how to build a tiny home, get the resources (if possible for free), and actually build and sell it. Provide me with a plan to do this in 2 months.

Creating a Music Studio in Hartford CT

>I am a 10th grader at Greater Hartford Academy for the Arts. I am really into all types of arts, theater, music. I want to create a space for young musicians to experiment and learn from each other. It's a studio in the high school. And then I want to figure out a way where we – as students – could produce and sell music on a variety of platforms. Create a 2 month plan for me to do this.

See even more examples of co-designed project prompts in the Student-Centered AI Toolkit.

3. Designing Systems that Support Personalized Learning

In addition to using AI to transform classroom learning, schools and districts can use AI to redesign learning systems. For example, a district can use AI to help them build out the structures and practices to put their Profile of a Learner or Graduate into action. Many districts have gone through the heavy lifting of articulating their Profile of Learner or Graduate but are still trying to figure out how to actually move forward in developing systems such as curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices that focus on those skills or attributes.

For fun, using the slide deck of a school district’s articulation of their Profile of a Graduate, I demonstrated how they could use AI tools to design and build out their profile’s aspirations throughout their system. Within a half-hour, we created a draft of a district-wide plan! You can see the prompts I used in the Student-Centered AI Toolkit, but the general process followed these steps:

  • Feeding AI with the attributes, dispositions, and competencies of a graduating senior
  • Asking AI to develop rubrics for ongoing assessment and self-assessment to track and guide the growth of each learner, using language that aligned to each grade level
  • Creating a system of portfolio development and presentations of learning to serve as evidence of growth and achievement of the attributes, dispositions, and competencies
  • Developing a system of expectations and professional development for all educators to ensure that educators throughout the system have support to implement the profile in these ways

Ed leaders can use a similar process for any other area of a school or district system to support personalized learning—student supports, professional development, and pilot programs, to name a few. The key is developing the knowledge and skills to engineer prompts and iterate as needed on the results to match your learner-centered goals. Here's an example prompt for building career-connected learning in elementary schools:

>I am a district leader and we need to figure out how to integrate career-connected learning in the elementary school. My district serves a socioeconomically diverse student population. We have 7 elementary schools ranging from 100 students to 450. We want our students to see what is possible within their community and beyond. We want to create a design that includes community members coming into the school and sharing about the work they do and how they acquired the job. We want the kids to get excited about potential jobs. We want them to be able to list their 3 possible careers of interest. We want them to connect this learning to their hope. Develop aspirations. And see the value of learning and school pursuing their aspirations. We want to create a career-week. And we want to have students see the connection between school and their possible futures. Create a design that does this for each of our elementary schools

What Will It Take? The Diffusion of Innovation through Technology-Assisted, Paradigm Shifting Tools

Working toward a vision and practices of schooling that is far more learner-centered presents a great deal of challenges. This is not easy work. Most educators are used to doing schooling as it has been done for decades, and most are a product of such schooling. So are students, and their parents, and school board members. And, such visions, expectations, and practices of schooling are fully supported by the expectations, policies, and funding mechanisms of our public school ecosystem. The status quo is thus deeply entrenched in how we see, think, and do school. We have "done school" the same way for such a long time, and those habits die hard.

Disrupting this inertia will require a few key ingredients:

  1. Visionary leaders willing to challenge the status quo and create pioneering models of what's possible. Superintendents like Cory Steiner in Northern Cass in North Dakota, who are reimagining schooling from the ground up.
  2. Compelling exemplars of learner-centered, AI-enabled schooling in action. Schools like Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indiana.
  3. Technology platforms and professional learning supports to help innovative practices spread. Tools so user-friendly, accessible, and tied to powerful outcomes that other schools can readily adopt them.
  4. An innovation-friendly policy context that creates space and incentives for transformation. State and local policies that enable, rather than block, the reinvention of schooling.

The good news is that this is beginning to happen, more by individual teachers but also in a few schools and school systems that are exploring the possibilities. These places are leveraging their educators to design systems and practices to ensure the safe and ethical use of AI to accelerate students’ learning. See a list of schools in the extended resources section of the Student-Centered AI Toolkit.

Where to from Here? Accelerating the Revolution

Can AI truly accelerate a schooling revolution? The answer is that it depends. It depends on whether the educational results and opportunities facilitated by AI are so dramatically better that adoption spreads quickly.

It also depends on the emergence of tech tools, paired with effective professional development, that could support educators and school systems to pursue and adopt learner-centered schooling.

Most importantly, the revolution depends on courageous, pioneering educators and leaders: Those at the vanguard of imagining and creating the classrooms, schools, and systems of tomorrow. Those willing to put powerful AI tools in the hands of learners to amplify their potential. Those willing to fundamentally rethink schooling, not just incrementally enhance it.

As rapid change and growing complexity reshape the demands of life, work, and citizenship, our world needs a different kind of learning that empowers every child to develop their potential and author their own future. Learning that looks more like the real-world, full of exploration, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving that crosses traditional academic boundaries.

We see glimpses of this vision in schools like Gibson Ek High School, a Big Picture Learning school in Washington. At Gibson Ek, every student pursues their unique interests through internships in the community and self-directed projects. The curriculum offers opportunities to dive deep into diverse topics and build new skills through design challenges and intensive workshops. Learners continuously develop and demonstrate growth in a comprehensive set of competencies to prepare them for the future. It is a powerful model of what student-centered learning can look like at scale.

Or consider the CAPS Network, where students develop career-relevant skills through client-driven projects, with heavy guidance from industry professionals. Whether they are pursuing research in bioscience, launching entrepreneurial ventures, or training in skilled trades, learners are immersed in authentic real-world learning and work. They build and apply competencies through these rich experiences, not artificial classroom activities.

AI has immense potential to accelerate this transformation to student-centered learning, if we wield it well, and boldly.

We can’t simply layer AI tools on top as a high-tech extension of 20th-century schooling. To realize its potential, we'll need to use AI to thoughtfully, intentionally build a new paradigm. The opportunity is immense. We can create an education system that leverages the most powerful tools of our time to enable every student to build the competencies and agency needed for a fast-changing future.

This is the schooling revolution we need. With courage, vision, and a commitment to harnessing these extraordinary technological capabilities in service of fundamentally reimagining learning, it's a revolution we can realize. Our students are ready for nothing less.

The Toolkit for AI-Empowered Student-Centered Learning

Practice using AI tools to design learning that is student-centered with the Student-Centered AI Toolkit. The toolkit includes example prompts and tips and tricks I've picked up for using generative AI platforms to help me and educators I've worked with to reimagine learning. Go deeper into designing learning for learners, co-designing learning with learners, and designing new systems, all to support the fundamental reimagining of learning that is needed to fuel the revolution. There's also an extensive list of resources—databases, learner-centered AI platforms, and ways that districts and schools are exploring student-centered AI. We hope to continue adding to it over time with more examples from innovative educators.


Photo at top by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

Chris Unger headshot

Chris Unger

Teaching Professor, Northeastern University

Chris Unger has been working in education for over 30 years. He graduated from Harvard and worked there, then at Brown University after working in the Seattle Public Schools, and now is a teaching professor at Northeastern University. Throughout it all, he has been trying to find a way to create a revolution in education—to inspire others to reimagine teaching, learning, and schooling and get to know hundreds of educators doing just that. He also has websites, a podcast, YouTube channels, a book, and newsletter to inspire and connect those who are pursuing or want to join in the revolution. Follow Chris on LinkedIn.