Wayne State graduate student advocates for artificial intelligence in health education

artificial intelligence

The Detroit Health Department reports that 1 in 4 Detroiters are in “fair to poor” health. Faced with historical disinvestment and systemic racism, the Greater Detroit population continues to suffer preventable diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and maternal mortality, well above the national average. 

It’s a legacy Wayne State University is committed to reversing with experts across campus working to promote health equity and inform healthy habits in the city’s urban neighborhoods. 

One such researcher is Gelareh Raoufi, a Ph.D. candidate in learning design and technology at the Wayne State University College of Education. 

Raoufi spent a semester last year collecting data on the efficacy of the Michigan Model for Health (MMH) curriculum in Detroit Public Middle Schools under the guidance of faculty mentor Andria B. Eisman, Ph.D. The MMH curriculum for 7th and 8th graders covers a comprehensive range of health topics including nutrition, physical activity, substance use prevention, reproductive health, and emotional wellbeing.  

“The consensus among teachers was that their students weren’t engaged in the material,” Raoufi said. “That it was either too hard or too easy. The students were bored. And these are homeroom teachers, not health experts, so when the students had questions, the teachers didn’t always know how to help.” 

Studies show early access to quality health education can help mitigate the complex health disparities in cities like Detroit, but that means narrowing the education gaps among students and teachers alike. 

A proponent of self-directed learning, Raoufi thinks artificial intelligence could be a viable solution to augment these challenges. It’s an idea she pitched earlier this year at the 2024 Graduate Research Symposium

Why artificial intelligence

Americans are split on how to feel about artificial intelligence. Raoufi is of the camp that artificial intelligence is what we make it, and whether we like it or not, it’s here to stay. And educators seem to agree. 

According to a recent poll by Forbes, 60% of teachers report they are already using AI in their classrooms. The number is expected to skyrocket in the coming years. 

“In a world where assistive technologies are ubiquitous, it’s necessary to adapt educational methodologies to equip students for an uncertain future shaped by technological advancement,” Raoufi said. 

It's an advancement she aims to witness first-hand. Currently seeking approval from the Wayne State University Institutional Review Board, Raoufi plans to begin a pilot study in winter 2025 when she will again study the efficacy of the MMH curriculum, this time with the integration of the assistive AI-tool Nearpod.

Nearpod already has a proven track record in education. According to their website, teachers in 150 countries and 75% of teachers in U.S. districts are already using their technology. 

Raoufi will gather information from middle schoolers and health education teachers in Oakland County who opt-in on a volunteer basis. 

“All data derived from the study will be anonymous. The personal information of participants will not be retained, and they reserve the right to opt out of the study without explanation at any time,” she said. 

Raoufi will provide educators with training on how to use Nearpod and ongoing support throughout the semester. 

How’s it work? Educators will plug MMH curricula into Nearpod, converting lesson plans into interactive presentations, quizzes, and activities geared to promote active student participation. She will investigate how Nearpod impacts students’ learning outcomes and teachers’ perceptions and instructional practices. 

Driven by AI, Nearpod’s adaptive learning capabilities enable personalized learning experiences tailored to each student’s performance. 

“For example, it can analyze student responses in real-time during a quiz activity. If students consistently answer questions correctly, the system may present more challenging questions to stimulate their learning. Conversely, if students struggle with certain concepts, Nearpod can provide additional explanations or adjust the difficulty level to scaffold their understanding.”

The pros don’t stop with the students, she said. 

“AI can empower educators to make informed instructional decisions based on data-driven insights as well as automate the grading process, saving time and allowing teachers to provide targeted feedback.” 

Raoufi acknowledges the fears surrounding the sudden burst in artificial intelligence but insists that AI is not a substitute for human expertise. Today’s educational experts are watching the future of AI advance in real-time. Who better to shape it than teachers?

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