AI in school: Virtually chatting with George Washington and your personal GPT-4 tutor

ChatGPT both awed and alarmed the computer savvy and the computer-phobic public when the encyclopedic chatbot debuted in November. Teachers worried about cheating, and parents feared the unknown.

The artificial intelligence software, which analyzes mammoth amounts of information from the internet, spits out impressive essays and logical answers to seemingly any question — even, on occasion, with undue confidence, as it miscalculated a math problem or made up an answer.

Sal Khan, founder and chief executive of the Mountain View-based nonprofit global classroom Khan Academy, envisions artificial intelligence as a powerful tool for learning and teaching. On the same day last week that the research lab OpenAI released GPT-4, which is an even more advanced version of ChatGPT, Khan introduced Khanmigo. It’s an application of GPT-4 that will be integrated into Khan Academy’s lessons and videos.

Listen to Sal Khan on how GPT-4 and Khanmigo will advance teaching

The timing wasn’t coincidental. Khan had been working for six months with OpenAI on the application, getting a sense of GPT-4’s possibilities, he said.

“We view it as our responsibility to start deeply working with artificial intelligence, but threading the needle so that we can maximize the benefits and mitigate the risks,” he said. “We think artificial intelligence needs to be a tool for real learning and not for cheating.”

Khan Academy offers free personalized learning where students can work at their own pace, a comprehensive set of pre-K through early college courses and programs on life skills. Its videos and prompts guide students through content that’s available in 50 languages. Tens of millions of students have used Khan Academy.

Khan said Khanmigo will act like a “virtual Socrates,” asking questions and coaxing answers, not giving them, suggesting how to create students’ essays, not writing them — just as a good tutor would, he said.

Studies point to “high-dosage tutoring” — face-to-face, in school, several times each week with the same tutor — as the most effective form of tutoring. But those tutors are hard to find and often expensive. Instead, many districts are relying on tutoring in after-school programs and through companies that offer tutoring by text or phone, more like homework help.

Listen to Sal Khan on how artificial intelligence can work for tutoring

Khanmigo will work in real time in the classroom with students who are struggling, Khan said. Teachers who integrate Khan Academy will have a record of  Khanmigo’s “conversations” with individual students and monitor their progress, Khan said.  Parents will have full access to what students are working on at home, too.

Khanmigo will engage and captivate students in ways that haven’t been possible until developments in artificial intelligence in the last few years, Khan said. What’s available already hints at the potential, he said. Students can have conversations with presidents they’re studying in history class. Khanmigo will take the other side in debate exercises.

Over time, there will be a lot to offer teachers, from correcting papers to creating handouts and prompts for discussions. Khan Academy has been consulting with experienced teachers and content experts on an activity to develop lesson plans, “and it’s quite good,” Khan said.

The assistance will save teachers time so that they can spend more of the day focusing on their students.

To be clear, he said in announcing Khanmigo, this will be a “learning journey,” and “there is a long way to go. AI makes mistakes. Even the newest generation of AI can still make errors in math.”

That is why Khanmigo is rolling out slowly, as Khan and his team troubleshoot and build safeguards into the system, defining areas that are inappropriate and off-limits.

The first users have been a select group of students, teachers and funders. Soon Khanmigo will be open to the 500 school districts nationwide that have partnered with Khan Academy. In California, they include Atwater Elementary School District, Long Beach Unified and Compton Unified.

Khan is inviting individuals to join a waiting list and will let in several thousand in the coming weeks. Khan is charging them $20 per month to cover development expenses and OpenAI’s fees. The cost should come down substantially in coming months, and there’ll be no charge for low-income schools, he said.

Compton Superintendent Darin Brawley said Friday that high school grades hadn’t used Khan Academy since the start of the pandemic but the district is interested in learning more about its use of artificial intelligence in the classroom.


Last week, EdSource interviewed Khan Academy founder and CEO Sal Khan about his plans for Khanmigo and GPT-4. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.

So you’ve been working with GPT-4 for some time?

That’s right. We’ve been working with it for about six months now.

So you’re making it compatible with Khan Academy. Tell me how that works.

A lot of it is the integration with Khan Academy itself. When you’re watching a video, it knows about the video that you’re watching. When you’re doing an exercise, it knows about the exercise you’re doing. How do you prompt it so that it acts the way a good tutor would? How do you know it gives just the right amount of nudge without giving answers away, but, also doesn’t make the kid feel frustrated or stuck? How do you put proper safeguards around it so that it’s less likely for it to get into a bad place?

We’ve also done some things above and beyond. GPT-4 is dramatically better than GPT-3.5 at math. It’s a larger, more sophisticated model. But it’s still not perfect. So we actually did work with the Open AI folks. I personally spent about 20 hours, training it to be better at tutoring and some of the math, like diagnosing students’ errors. And then we created all these other activities both for teachers and students.

What are some?

Tutoring is one. But the other ones are being able to get into a debate with AI. We have this fun vocabulary reading comprehension, where it generates a passage that you have to identify where it might have misused a word and what the right word would’ve been. And then, it’ll create the next passage and then the next paragraph. You’re learning vocabulary in a more authentic way than, “Memorize these words and write a sentence.”

And does that expand what Khan Academy traditionally has done?

Our aspiration has always been a free world class education for anyone, anywhere. We want to cover all the core academic material from pre-K through college, make it as personalized as possible. But this accelerates it dramatically to another level. Already we have high school American history. You can learn about it, watch the videos, do the exercises. You’ll have a very solid content knowledge. But now you can also talk to George Washington, debate the Federalist papers – these very high-order thinking skills that we would’ve thought were impossible with technology a few years ago.

And there’s a democratizing impact of this?

A hundred percent. Well-off kids who go to Andover (an elite New England prep school) already have these high-minded debates. That’s not happening in most places. A lot of teachers do aspire for it, but it’s hard with 30 kids. If you have a large number of kids in the classroom, usually only 10 are really participating, and the other kids kind of check out. But this is an opportunity to democratize and make it more accessible in a lot of ways.

Talk about how it can help teachers.

Teachers spend 30, 40, 50% of their time developing lesson plans, grading papers. We’re going to make all of that dramatically faster. We have an activity to help develop lesson plans and it’s quite good. We’ve been working with teachers to develop it, and with pedagogical experts.

Teachers will be able to monitor everything that the students are up to. If you’re about to teach something about the American Revolution, imagine a teacher being able to put it up on the projector. “OK, let’s have a conversation with George Washington. He’s visiting our class today.”

“You know, Billy, what do you want to ask George?” That’s an amazing lesson hook. Or as a class, “Let’s debate this issue around, Is homework a good or a bad thing?”

If you had to guess where it would be a year from now, what do you think?

I hope a year from now a million people are using it and on our side, we’ve made it that much more functional for classrooms so that teachers can make assignments. We have multi-user interactions so that AI could facilitate a debate — or class projects. A year from now we’re going to have speech to text and text to speech so you can essentially talk to it, and it’ll talk back.

A year from now, I hope to have some type of – let’s call it – permanent memory. Right now, the AI is only aware of the conversation that you’re in. If you were to tell it now, “Why do I need to learn this?” It says, “Well, what are you interested in?” He says, “Well, I like soccer.” “Well, this is why it’s useful for soccer.”

It should remember previous conversations, so it feels more seamless.

You’ve always used AI with Khan, right? It’s not a whole new concept.

The difference is in the past, we and other folks have used specialized AIs, which are more like, “Hey, let’s use all of the data we have to figure out what the next best activity is for you.” It’s a very specialized use.

This is a general AI. You could talk to it about anything. It’s really us putting the guardrails on what you can and cannot talk to it about.

Many companies were trying to work on specialized AI math tutors. The fact that this kind of out-of-the-box (tutor) outperforms those is noteworthy. By the way, it’s not just a math tutor, it’s a science tutor, it’s a humanities tutor, it’s a grammar tutor. And it can connect the dots. If you say, “Hey, I’m learning entropy in computer science class, but I’m also learning it in chemistry class. How are these concepts linked?” It can help you. AI is really good at that.

High dosage tutoring is good, but best in the classroom. And, and so this brings tutoring into the classroom and it’s a question of teachers adopting it to. It’s the assistant in the classroom.

There’s a large body of evidence that tutoring is good, and this is why people invested in it. But not if it’s disconnected from what they’re doing in the classroom, or if it’s not happening in class. This is going to be really interactive, and you have it right in the moment when you’re struggling. And teachers are going to have all these tools, and then it’s as if the teacher will have a teaching assistant. The teacher will ask it,  “Hey, what have the kids been up to?” And it will say, “I helped Billy with this, I helped Mary with this,” etc.

The teacher can keep track of where everyone is at that moment?

To be clear, what we launched yesterday just has the teachers being able to see the transcripts of all of the conversations if they want to. But, a year from now, I hope even sooner, we’re going to have a teacher just have a conversation with it about what the students are up to.

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *