March 8, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 100—Teachers, and artificial intelligence

Being a teacher can be a stressful job. Being a teacher during a pandemic - keeping track of kids, getting them engaged in school, and coming up with lesson plans they can do remotely or in-person – can be extra exhausting. Heather Ormiston, a clinical assistant professor of school psychology at IU, says a number of factors contribute to the unbearable pressure teachers are facing. Educators' ability to empathize with and support their students is maxed out, she says. Educators showed signs of what's called "compassion fatigue" even before the pandemic, because kids come to school with all kinds of life experiences – sometimes deeply traumatic ones, Ormiston says. It really becomes mentally and emotionally exhausting for educators who interact with these kids on a daily basis to try to intervene and support them, she says. The pandemic has only added more to everyone's maximum load, and as people share troubling reports about how students are faring, Ormiston says school staff need similar attention. Leadership and the school administration can set the tone for the culture and the climate of a school, Ormiston says, they're the professionals responsible for making sure kids learn, often providing other types of support for them and their families, too. Ormiston says that some teachers report not feeling supported or comfortable bringing up mental health concerns or unmanageable stress levels to their administrators. Fundamentally, we need to look not only at the mental health of our students, but also of teachers and administrators, and how we're supporting that mental health. As we head into spring, Ormiston says, teachers and staff feel compelled to keep on moving, in hopes that the pressures will ease up soon.

In other news, a newly released report from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence reports the U.S. is in danger of falling behind China and Russia in developing artificial intelligence technologies and countering cybersecurity threats that could develop as AI becomes more widespread. The report offers more than 60 recommendations for how the U.S. could become the world leader in developing and deploying AI technologies as well as how to counter threats that leverage AI. It also calls on Congress to authorize spending to fund the development of AI, machine learning and other technologies to help the U.S. better compete as well as protect critical assets from security threats. IUPUI Professor Lauren Christopher, who studied uses and effects of AI, believes that the commission is right to focus on how China and Russia are developing artificial intelligence technologies, and the U.S. needs to invest more to keep pace. Christopher says of the technologies outlined in the report, increasing the talent pool and bringing chip design back on-shore are spot-on. The U.S. needs to invest more and have leadership strategies in place, she says. There is much already done in the U.S. on AI topics, but much more to do.