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AI in Education: Considering Ethics and Power

June 7, 2024
Sepehr Vakil is associate professor of learning sciences.

Difficult ethical and moral questions will play a central role in whether artificial intelligence will expand opportunities and equity in STEM education or make things worse, Northwestern University learning scientist Sepehr Vakil said during his closing keynote at a National Science Foundation convening of principal investigators in Arlington, Virgina.

“Researchers and classroom educators must also be involved and engaged in the evolution of AI in learning and schools,” Vakil said. 

Vakil, whose talk during the 2024 EDU Core Research meeting addressed the future of AI in STEM education, also participated in a Q & A with Yolanda Rankin, associate professor of computer science at Emory University. Rankin is considered one of the leading researchers working on issues of computing education and equity.

Vakil directs the Technology, Race, Ethics, and Equity in Education (TREE) Lab at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. An associate professor, he also was co-lead of the Spencer Foundation’s research convening on Equity and AI in Education, serves as a senior advisor to Expanding Computing Education Pathways in Illinois and is serving on a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Computing and Data Science in K12 Education.

“AI is unique in the kinds of moral and ethical questions that it raises about complex issues like the environment, warfare and surveillance, to name a few,” he said. “AI ethics in STEM education cannot be viewed as separate from these broader ethical and moral questions.

“Our field must engage with the political economy of AI, asking always who is controlling the tech, the data, and to whose benefit?” Vakil added. “How might the National Science Foundation, and those of us who have NSF-funded projects, intervene and shift this ecosystem?”