Another day, another AI.
I’m not yet sold that chat is as good of a user experience as many are making it out to be. This is especially true for teaching and learning — where the best teacher asks good questions. And students often don’t know what they don’t know well enough to ask the right questions.
I’ve experimented with using AI as a tutor with Open AI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, Microsoft’s Bing, and others. In a school context, there is definite value, but my experiences have been a mixed bag. My thoughts have changed now that I have my hands on Khanmigo, the new AI “guide” from Khan Academy.
What is Khanmigo?
Khanmigo is an AI-powered guide that Khan Academy has developed to provide tutoring for learners and assistance for teachers. While it is powered by GPT-4 from Open AI, the magic is that Khan Academy has wrapped custom prompts around the experience to tailor it for educators and students.
Khanmigo is in Beta, and there is a waitlist. It requires a minimum $20 per month donation to use the Beta.
The Teacher’s Aide
For teachers, there are some great prompts to help you do things like:
- Create a lesson hook
- Create exit ticket questions of a lesson
- Translate jargon-filled standards into student-friendly language
- Create lesson plans
- Create rubrics
Here’s an example — I told it that I was teaching 7th-grade math about the Pythagorean Theorem. It spit out two lesson hooks to introduce the topic to students.
Great! The Pythagorean Theorem is a fascinating topic. Here are two lesson hooks to get your 7th-grade students excited about learning it:
Hook 1: The Mysterious Triangle Begin by drawing a large right-angled triangle on the board, and label the sides A, B, and C. Ask students if they’ve ever heard of a secret relationship between the sides of a right-angled triangle. Let them guess and discuss for a moment. Then, reveal that there’s a hidden formula that connects the three sides, and it’s been used for thousands of years!
Hook 2: The Ancient Puzzle Show your students a picture of the Great Pyramid of Giza and ask them how they think the ancient Egyptians built such precise structures. Explain that one of their secrets was understanding the relationship between the sides of right-angled triangles. Introduce the Pythagorean Theorem as a key to unlocking the mysteries of these ancient structures.
Which one of these hooks do you like? Would you like to make any changes or adjustments?Khanmigo’s reply
Creating a rubric actually blew me away. I only typed in “Spanish past tense ar verbs.” It then gave suggestions and asked me if I wanted to make changes, and in under a minute, I had this:
|Criteria||Emerging (1)||Developing (2)||Proficient (3)|
|Conjugation accuracy||Struggles with conjugating AR verbs in the past tense, impeding communication.||Demonstrates some understanding, but makes occasional errors.||Accurately conjugates AR verbs, allowing for clear communication.|
|Sentence structure||Struggles with sentence structure, making it difficult to understand meaning.||Demonstrates some understanding, but makes occasional errors.||Constructs sentences with proper structure, allowing for clarity.|
|Vocabulary usage||Uses limited or inappropriate vocabulary, making it difficult to understand.||Uses some appropriate vocabulary, but may make occasional errors.||Uses a variety of appropriate and precise vocabulary, enhancing communication.|
|Contextual understanding||Struggles to use past tense AR verbs in context, impeding understanding.||Demonstrates some understanding, but may make occasional errors.||Effectively uses past tense AR verbs in context, enhancing communication.|
My only complaint was that I had to ask it to format it as a table for me. At first, it gave me a wall of text. But I simply wrote, “can you format this as a table?” and a few seconds later, the table was done.
The most important thing here, which is true for the student tools in Khanmigo, too, is that the AI is careful never to give the answer. Over and over again, it will prompt you to provide your feedback or make adjustments. For teachers, Khanmigo will shine by taking existing lessons, assessments, and rubrics and making them better.
You could use ChatGPT or other AI assistants directly to get similar results, but it is clear that the behind-the-scenes prompts for Khanmigo give you a better-tailored result.
The Student Tutor
Khanmigo is also designed to be a one-on-one tutor for students. There are prompts to get students started. You can even copy/paste a homework question in, and it will guide you through it, being careful not just to provide the answer.
The challenge here is that the student really has to have some idea of what to ask and know how to ask it. My hunch is that struggling students, who could benefit from something like this the most, will also be less likely to be able to prompt the AI assistant correctly.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. My 10-year son has some learning challenges and is currently struggling with long division. I sat him down and clicked the prompt to “Tutor me: Math and science” in Khanmigo and told him to ask for help with long division.
Here is as far as he made it on his own:
Basically, he didn’t get anywhere before he needed my help.
For math specifically, and especially for younger kids that don’t type well, just inputting math expressions into a typed format is an insurmountable challenge.
I’m sure this will improve over time, especially when AI tools like this get further customized based on the topic. So instead of one chat window to do everything, we may have a different user experience for math questions with calculator input or similar.
There are some extremely interesting activities in Khanmigo for students that look promising:
- Debates – Khanmigo provides the topics and will debate you in real time. And force you to consider “both sides” of the issue.
- Chats with historical figures – Abe Lincoln reminded me that slavery was a primary cause of the Civil War and asked me for my thoughts on why we should learn from history and how it impacts challenges of today.
- Chats with literary characters – I asked Don Quijote what was up with windmills, and he redirected me to a conversation about if I ever faced challenges that seemed insurmountable, only to realize they were not as they appeared.
This might be the most disappointing experience I had with Khanmigo. And it is no fault of Khan Academy, I believe our AI abilities are just not quite here yet.
I took Khanmigo quizzes on AP Calculus and Middle School American History to test it out. Both quizzes were full of questions that were more basic computation (calculus) or wrote memorization (history). This is not the level of assessment that we need.
While it does a good job of walking you through the right answer if you get it wrong, I’m looking for more AI awareness on WHY you get an answer wrong and tailoring its response to that. This is the type of thing that teachers learn over time — what the common mistakes of students are and how to re-teach and re-frame based on those mistakes.
What the AI does really well is being able to take a student’s written answer and decide if it is correct or not. Spelling, grammar, or writing numbers with words don’t seem to fool Khanmigo. If this can be put into more places, this could be a great way to free up educators’ time and give students access to faster feedback.
Can AI Replace Teachers?
If I was still a classroom teacher, I could see myself benefiting from using Khanmigo to help plan nearly every lesson. It is that good.
For students, though, we shouldn’t expect tools like Khanmigo to replace the teacher anytime soon. It will be a fantastic tool to bring in often in lessons, but it won’t be the only thing students need.