Key Takeaways from the Virtual Seminar for English Language Teachers 2024 

Are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and humans compatible when it comes to language learning and assessment? This question was at the heart of our Virtual Seminar for English Language Teachers: Humanizing AI for Learning and Assessment, held online on May 24th. Organized by ETS EMEA's ELT team, the seminar brought together a diverse group of English language teachers, researchers, practitioners, and educational professionals, along with over 2,300 registrants from all over the world. The discussions aimed to explore the potential of AI in enhancing learning and assessment while maintaining the essential human touch in education. Participants shared insights and best practices on integrating AI into the classroom, addressing what is arguably the hottest topic in education today

The seminar consisted of four distinct sessions, each focusing on a different aspect of AI in English language education and assessment:  

  • What’s trending in the classroom? A look into several of the most popular AI tools used in ELT and beyond. 
  • AI and technology: (R)evolution or distraction? Practitioners sharing their advice for incorporating AI solutions into classroom practice: Where to start? What are the benefits and challenges? 
  • AI in large-scale assessment: How is it used for scoring, item development, and how to ensure it is used ethically? 
  • What products and services at ETS were recently improved with the help of AI technologies? 

These themes provided a common thread throughout the seminar, aiming to address educators' and professionals' concerns and curiosities. 

The big question we all share was tackled in the first session of the Virtual Seminar: is AI a friend or a foe? Or maybe both?! Many of us, as teachers in an increasingly technological world, worry that technology will eventually make us redundant. But instead of fearing or rejecting technology, we should try to understand it better. This understanding is the way we can be empowered as educators. Every technological revolution brings concerns, but we have always found ways not only to coexist with new technologies but also to use them to make our lives better and easier. Leveraging AI and learning how to integrate it into our teaching practices can help us stay effective in our roles and competitive in the job market. The truth is that nothing is likely to replace the human connection and bond teachers create with students; in that respect, teachers are irreplaceable. However, AI can assist in easing instructors’ increasingly heavy workload, allowing us to focus more on what we do best: teaching and connecting with the students.  

As teachers, let us focus on: 

  • Using AI to complement—not replace—human interaction in teaching. 
  • Allowing AI to assist with material development, assessments, feedback, and administrative tasks to save time that we can then spend interacting directly with students. 
  • Always checking for biases or inaccuracies before using AI-generated content. 
  • Reusing effective prompts for better output quality and efficiency. 
  • Jumpstarting AI integration with pre-designed prompts from resources like “AI 101 for Teachers”
  • Educating students on responsible AI usage instead of banning it. 

Similar recommendations appeared in the second session, a roundtable featuring teachers and practitioners already integrating AI into their daily work. The questions posed to the participants were particularly relevant, as they were sourced directly from the audience through a pre-event survey. This ensured that the discussion centered on the audience's genuine concerns and queries regarding AI in education. 

Here are some recommendations from our excellent roundtable speakers: 

  • For teachers new to using AI in the classroom, try starting with one helpful AI tool, practicing until comfortable, and then explore another one. 
  • The key to receiving quality content from Generative AI is the preciseness of the prompt. Practice writing prompts and always check the accuracy of the content that you receive as it can be biased or include inaccurate information. 
  • Do not be afraid to use AI tools for developing students’ speaking skills; capturing students’ speaking samples and having them transcribed for analysis or shared for peer feedback are just some examples of activities. Not to mention, there exist solutions allowing students to converse with a bot! 
  • AI tools can support creating your classroom assessments, such as a quiz based on a reading passage. Do not forget to verify the quality of the questions, though! 
  • Whether AI will help develop or hinder creativity and critical thinking depends on how we use it. Ensure the tasks you create require students to apply higher-order thinking skills.  
  • Do not get too attached to a specific AI tool—especially if you rely on a free one—as the pricing models can change without notice. So unless you plan to cover the license fee yourself or convince your school to do that, you may suddenly be prevented from using a tool as extensively as you have planned.  

The following session focused on the use of AI for large-scale assessment and took the form of a panel led by ETS experts. The researchers focused on three crucial aspects of AI in assessment: 

  • Combined human & AI scoring 
  • Using AI for content generation 
  • Responsible and ethical use of AI 

Once again, the key word was collaboration. ETS has long recognized the benefits of using AI in evaluating and scoring language in its high-stakes tests. They have also understood how much this process can be improved by combining AI with the human factor. Technology excels in certain areas, but the human touch remains essential for what humans do best. In a collaborative perspective, humans are always involved throughout the process to provide necessary feedback and quality control measures. ETS acknowledges the crucial role assessment plays in test takers’ lives, ensuring that nothing is taken for granted and that experts are always there to refine and improve the process. 

Finally, as highlighted in the last session, Heraclitus once said, “the only constant in life is change.” Reflecting this, the Virtual Seminar also delved into the latest updates from ETS. These included the new TOEIC® 4-Skills Tests, the recently launched prep portal TOEFL® TestReady, deadlines for upcoming ETS grants and awards, and the new Writing task for young students in TOEFL Primary® tests and TOEFL Junior® tests. The closing remarks were dedicated to the ongoing ETS rebranding, closely linked to the organization’s mission and vision. ETS aims to advance quality in education for all learners worldwide and to be the leading global learning and assessment organization. Our goal is to be part of a world where all people can improve their lives through education and lifelong learning, guided by the core values of social responsibility, equity, quality, opportunity, and integrity

Watch The Recording

In conclusion, the 2024 Virtual Seminar for English Language Teachers: Humanizing AI for Learning and Assessment provided an in-depth and practical exploration of current AI use, potential improvements, and its growing role in education. Throughout sessions and discussions, participants offered valuable insights on integrating AI into the classroom, addressing its challenges, and leveraging its benefits for both teaching and assessment. The seminar underscored the irreplaceable human connection in education while highlighting how AI can enhance our roles as educators. 

If you participated in our seminar and wish to revisit some of the key points, or if you were unable to join us live but are interested in the topics discussed, we invite you to watch the recording here and explore these discussions further to gain practical tips and insights for your own teaching practice.