The Insight That Could Change How Schools Think About AI


By Diana Tobey, Keren Wong, and Tomoya Mori

Apprehension about AI is everywhere, but few industries are passing judgment and regulation as quickly and decisively as education.

A few examples: An LA school district banned ChatGPT shortly after it was released, and universities are re-introducing blue books and oral exams to combat cheating. Then there’s the case of NYC Public Schools Chancellor David C. Banks’ reversal of a restriction of OpenAI products. In announcing their new approach, Banks noted the potential widening socioeconomic gap between those with and without access to tools like generative AI and encouraged exploration with the tool.

Given that the rules of this wild west are still being written, it’s an opportune moment for design. We partnered with Ethiqly, a pioneering edtech company developing an AI-powered writing hub for students and teachers, to explore how AI could support more students and teachers to thrive.

News headlines reflecting both fears and hopes for the use of AI in education

During our immersive research, we spent time with teachers and learners in their day-to-day, hearing about the scope of challenges from both sides. Some teachers described the overwhelming workload of thoughtfully grading piles of essays. Students, on the other hand, often felt stuck staring at a blinking cursor on an empty page, unsure of how to start. As these conversations unfolded, the team from Ethiqly and IDEO began to envision how we could harness AI to amplify the ‘superpowers’ of teachers, thereby providing more personalized instruction to students across varying goals and abilities.

One piece of inspiration that stuck with us is the framing of teachers as game designers.

Mark and his students interacting with a working prototype of Ethiqly’s AI-powered writing hub

“Designing a writing assignment is a lot like [designing] a video game,” said Mark, one of the high school teachers we invited into our design process. “Teachers are designing the level. If it’s too difficult, students are going to keep failing. There is this gradual increase of difficulty you have to build in.”

Both game designers and teachers aim to cater to different player typologies, unpack latent motivations, and provide support to help individuals improve. By borrowing strategies from game design, we can create educational journeys that adapt to students’ pace, address moments of failure, and maintain engagement throughout the journey.

And in the gaming world, emerging AI-powered tools are enabling designers to build more complex worlds that adapt to user actions. For instance, tools like Unity Muse and Ubisoft’s Ghostwriter can boost the creation process, giving game designers more time and creative freedom to focus on narratives in world-building and balance difficulty for players.

Similarly, for teachers in the writing process, IDEO’s work with Ethiqly focuses on elevating classroom teachers, not replacing them, so they can spend more time on what they love about teaching. Rather than merely spotting mistakes, Ethiqly identifies growth trends and surfaces nuanced feedback for every student. Teachers then have the agency to accept, reject or customize that feedback before sharing it with their students.

Jared Grusd (Ethiqly co-founder) and Rachel Young (IDEO Executive Director) at SF Design Week 2023

“At Ethiqly, we are passionately exploring the intersection of AI and education,” said Jared Grusd, co-founder of Ethiqly. “Our collaboration with IDEO has underscored our belief that technology should empower, not replace, educators. By marrying AI with human-centered design, we’re paving the way for more personalized, equitable learning experiences.”

Like any game designer, teachers want to see their learners level up over time. By personalizing writing rubrics to each student’s learning goals, teachers can gain insight over time into students’ needs and engage more holistically in their individual writing journey. With Ethiqly, teachers become the designers of personalized educational journeys, spending less time correcting and more time connecting.

To empower teachers as game designers also means equipping students as players. By breaking down the writing process into interactive, self-paced steps, Ethiqly creates space for students to find their unique voice, so that teachers can focus on where their instruction is most needed.

Real stories from IDEO design research showcasing the potential for AI in writing education

Incorporating AI into new edtech solutions like Ethiqly gave us a chance to reimagine the learning experience from a human-centered lens.

Are you working on shaping the future of education? Let’s talk.



Diana Tobey, Senior Design Director, IDEO Play Lab
Duct Tape AI

Insatiably curious about the world. Passionate about the human side of technology & design.