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Learning Library Blog Authentic Engagement: Michael Hernandez on Using AI and Meaningful Assessments to Reenergize Learning
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Authentic Engagement: Michael Hernandez on Using AI and Meaningful Assessments to Reenergize Learning

By Christy Matte
June 20, 2024
Getty Images 892807216

One thing we all seem to agree on when it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI) is that it’s poised to cause significant change. It’s revolutionizing how we work and play, how we communicate, and even how we create. And as is often the case with new technologies, there’s a lot of fear about the future. However, educator and author Michael Hernandez is cautiously optimistic that with thoughtful and ethical adoption, AI can transform our education system for the better. Instead of challenges, he’s looking for opportunities.

Hernandez, a veteran media arts teacher at Mira Costa High School in California and author of the recently published ISTE book Storytelling with Purpose: Digital Projects to Ignite Student Curiosity, is passionate about increasing student engagement, in part via authentic and meaningful assessments. He encourages the use of story projects that allow students to utilize their unique voices and perspectives, find deeper meaning in their learning, and avoid the temptation to cheat.

While cheating has been at the forefront of concerns about AI on the educational front, Hernandez has a different take. AI, he reminds us, is just another tool. He likens it to the introduction of the calculator in classrooms; schools wanted to ban them because students wouldn’t learn basic math skills. But Hernandez believes that artificial intelligence may free students from mundane tasks, allowing them to delve deeper into topics of interest.

“I’m hopeful that AI will be the ultimate disruptor of a very problematic academic school system which has always focused on rote memorization and repetitive activities,” Hernandez explains. “How can we use these tools to offload that cognitive load?”

When Hernandez thinks back to childhood, he remembers having his own challenges in the classroom. “There are many obstacles to learning that students struggle with,” he says. “Instead of putting barriers in front of kids and telling them they have to suffer, because suffering somehow equals learning, we should focus on what really matters, which is curiosity and passion and doing something real that has an impact in the world.”

It is exactly these challenges and this vision that pushed Hernandez to think critically about assessments. He dedicated a full chapter to the subject in Storytelling with Purpose and found that it resonated heavily with fellow educators who were struggling to properly assess student learning and discourage cheating. This led Hernandez to create his new self-produced online course, entitled Uncheatable Assessments.

Hernandez’s method isn’t simply about making it difficult for students to cheat, it’s also about creating assignments that are exciting, so kids aren’t compelled to cheat. Instead of bogging students down in the name of a learning model that often equates to “minutes sitting in a chair," Hernandez advocates rethinking standardized assignments, where possible, and freeing students to share their learning stories.

In terms of AI and its future in the classroom, Hernandez thinks it may be just what we need to tear down barriers to learning and elevate the type of work students can engage in. "These tech tools, and especially artificial intelligence, have highlighted the importance of our humanity, originality, and creativity,” he shares. “What is of value is not rote memorization. It's not the worksheets. It's what you can do that is helpful and productive and unique. And so, it's not so much what you know, but what you can do with what you know that matters.”

There are plenty of opportunities to hear from Michael Hernandez at ISTELive 24, including several virtual sessions. Register now!

Christy Matte is the editor for the ISTE blog. She is passionate about lifelong learning, supporting and mentoring young people, and the power of technology as a tool for self-expression. She holds an M.Ed. in Technology in Education from Lesley University and has shared her joy for creative technological pursuits with kids and adults from Manhattan to Manila.

Image source: Getty Images