BY Preston ForeNovember 13, 2023, 10:29 PM
In 2019, Sean Michael Morris alluded that the edtech industry was a predatory body and that educators needed to come together to stand in its way.
Now as vice president of academics at Course Hero, Morris has at least come around in part to appreciate the work of edtech companies toward improving student success. But he also admitted that Course Hero recognizes that many students come to the platform in a sort of an emergency situation: they are looking for the answer to a problem they cannot solve, and Course Hero’s millions of documents may have that answer.
“We want to change that; we want it actually to become sort of a more of a sort of habit building platform where essentially you’re coming there on a regular basis to help with your coursework across the semester, as opposed to that emergency moment where you’re trying to look for help,” he says.
He says the platform’s goal is to transform studying into a seamless experience for every course—which not only includes supporting students but teachers as well.
And with the rise in AI advancements, Course Hero is at a crossroads; the tech is set to play an integral part in reaching Course Hero’s mission—but in a transformational way for the company, according to CEO John Peacock.
Using AI with documents
Like its study competitors such as Chegg, Quizlet, and Khan Academy, Course Hero is integrating AI into its platform in several ways, including with AI chat features.
“We’re able to offer a different experience than Google or ChatGPT and others in our space by leveraging our own AI, combined with over a decade of school and course specific data and resources enabling us to serve a more relevant and personalized study experience,” Peacock tells Fortune.
The platform launched an AI-powered “upload to study” feature that allows students to submit their notes or study guides and technology will provide answers, explain solutions, and generate resources like practice problems. With Course Hero’s AI course assistant, users get real-time support while they’re studying with a particular document, and if help is still needed, the platform can connect students with a human tutor.
Morris equates it to a writing center experience because it is designed more toward encouraging learning rather than just seeking a transactional, cheating session. He hopes students will spend time learning and investigating as well as returning to the platform throughout the semester.
“What we’re trying to do is help students succeed,” Morris says. “That provides students with the kind of environment online where they can turn documents that they have into study experiences, essentially. So the opportunity to really utilize AI now, we can actually take that document and make it into an opportunity for students to explore the knowledge that’s in that document in much deeper ways.”
Teachers teaching teachers
One of Morris’ main roles at Course Hero is to guide the side of the company pertaining to educator outreach and professional development. He just wrapped up a four-week “AI Academy” program, which worked with 350 high school and college educators to facilitate conversation and learning surrounding AI.
The course focused on four subjects: practical AI skills for teachers, using AI for assessment design, AI and academic integrity, and teaching AI literacy to students.
Before the AI academy, 93% of participants said their understanding and use of AI was at a beginner level, and 1 in 4 said they did not feel prepared to use AI at all. But afterward, 75% of the educators felt their understanding had jumped to an intermediate level or above, and 90% felt mostly or fully prepared to utilize AI in their classroom.
“There were a lot of people who came in feeling great doom and gloom about AI and now they’re feeling very optimistic and sort of productive about AI, feeling like they have a handle on it, they can do something with it, they understand it better now,” he says.
Because the rise in generative AI use in the classroom is so new, facilitating conversations among teachers is important, Morris says. He also agreed that the White House’s executive order on AI—which there has been some debate about among edtech leaders—is a positive sign as long as government and policymakers continue to listen to educators about what is actually going on inside the classroom.
“I think teachers are the ones on the ground, they’re the ones doing the work, they’re the ones who understand what the real challenges are,” Morris says. “…I think what we need is really decisive conversations about what this means. And I feel like that’s maybe where the executive order could lead us.”