February 27, 2024
Canva launches AI tools for education


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Canva is not resting on its AI laurels. Less than a month after launching its new AI-powered Magic Studio, the decade-old Australian startup that’s won a massive userbase by offering cloud-based graphic design and digital multimedia tools for the non-art degree holding masses is ramping up its efforts to court the oft-neglected education technology (edtech or edutech) sector with AI.

Last week, Canva announced its new “Classroom Magic,” a version of its Magic Studio designed specifically for teachers and students.

Nested under the existing Canva for Education product launched back in 2019 and already used by 50 million students and teachers around the globe, according to the company, the new Classroom Magic brings some of the same AI features from Magic Studio over to schools.

“When you think about the AI tools we are launching, they are all there to help teachers save time, create more engaging content for students and help the students embrace creativity,” said Jason Wilmot, Canva’s Head of Education, in an exclusive videoconference interview with VentureBeat.

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Canva for Education, along with the new Classroom Magic features, are available free for all students, teachers, and districts in the K-12 level. The company offers a paid plan for universities, but did not provide specifics on pricing to VentureBeat.

Canva counts more than 600,000 different schools among its existing users of Canva for Education, which means the new Classroom Magic update could be the biggest introduction of AI into the classroom in the world to date.

Among them are “Magic Write,” a generative AI tool that allows students and teachers to access quick actions from a dropdown menu, including summarizing text, expanding short text into longer formats, rewriting text, changing the tone, and more.

For those parents and educators worried about AI discouraging students from learning how to write on their own, Canva advises in a press release that Magic Write allows students to “develop their comprehension skills through intentionally crafted prompts.”

Another feature, “Magic Animate,” allows students and teachers to turn static text into moving text and automatically add transitions to presentations.

“Magic Grab,” meanwhile, automatically detects separate elements and objects within an image — say text within a classroom handout or diagrams — and lets the user/teacher/student automatically move, resize, and reposition them, even if they were not separate elements to begin with.

In a time-saving GenAI feature that is sure to please busy instructors and overworked students alike, “Magic Switch” is also ported over from the main Canva Magic Studio, which lets users “transform” their projects across formats, turning documents into presentations and vice versa with one click of a button. That’s not to say the resulting transformed file will be perfect — but it may be close, and it will at least provide a huge lift at getting started.

For students and teachers concerned about accessibility — and really, everyone should be — Canva’s new Classroom Magic provides automated “alt text” suggestions (that’s the text that appears in your desktop browser when you hover over it with your cursor, and is used by vision and hearing impaired to better understand what elements are displayed).

Shielding students and schools from harmful content with AI

Of course, part of the reason the edtech market is often overlooked or unserviced by software vendors is because school districts and schools themselves tend to have very strict, sometimes idiosyncratic requirements about what kinds of content and software/services are allowed in the classroom, even down to the level of discrete/individual product features and experiences.

Many school districts and schools maintain carefully curated “whitelists” of approved software and domains that are accessible by people within the institution, while others are blacklisted and blocked by the school’s network administrator and firewalls.

With GenAI going mainstream starting last year with the November 2022 release of ChatGPT, educators and district officials have been understandably nervous about how the new technology is making its way into the classroom.

Just today, UK/US newspaper The Guardian published an article online describing the experience of several teachers in engaging with AI in their classrooms, including one who said she “has been rethinking every single assignment she gives her students.”

Canva understands the apprehension around AI being used in the classroom, and as such, is bringing about strict controls through its new Canva Shield program, available alongside its Magic Studio for general users of the graphic design platform.

“This is the first place that a lot of these students will interact with AI, so we have to make sure that we’re investing heavily into trust and safety, and making sure that these products are safe for the classroom,” said Wilmot.

As such, Canva conducts daily discussions with teachers and school districts, and used these interactions to shape Canva Shield for Education. The platform includes:

  • Advanced Educator Controls: School administrators are able to set access permissions to these AI tools based on what they’re comfortable with.
  • Automatic Reviews: We use advanced technology to automatically review input prompts to prevent the creation of any inappropriate content.
  • Blocked Terms: As an additional precaution, we’ve blocked more than 10,000 words from being used in AI prompts to ensure content is safe for the classroom.
  • Reporting Options: We provide the ability to report and block any potentially unwanted terms or content.”

The big question: do schools even want all this AI tech?

Yet even as Canva marches forward with the new Classroom Magic suite of AI tools, the key question remains: how useful will teachers and students find them? Does anybody even want all this AI?

Fortunately for the company and its aspirations of revolutionizing edtech, it already has a great head start with its massive educational userbase. And market research supports the idea that students, teachers, and district officials alike all see potential in leveraging AI in the classroom to help improve learning.

Canva recently conducted a survey of 1,000 US teachers to gain insights into how educators are utilizing and perceiving AI in the classroom.

The survey revealed that while most teachers are excited about AI and eager to incorporate it into their teaching (78% of respondents), there is a significant knowledge gap that prevents wider adoption (93% admitted they don’t know where to start with AI tools).

Some of the benefits teachers cited include AI’s ability to boost student productivity (60%) and creativity (59%), reduce administrative burdens (56%), and support personalized learning (67%).

The report underscored the critical role technology now plays in modern classrooms, with 92% of teachers using apps and services regularly.

Teachers said they are interested in using AI to simplify language (67%), visualize data (66%), generate art (63%), edit writing and assignments and lesson plans (63%), and summarize information (62%).

Though Wilmot was careful to state that he did not see Canva’s role as “teaching AI engineering,” but rather “showcasing what AI can do” for learning.

“Our goal is just to make sure that we have a safe environment where students and teachers can learn about some of the AI capabilities within Canva and make sure that they’re demonstrating their learning,” he said.

Wilmot also noted that Canva already offers more than 5,000 lesson plans that teachers can use freely within the platform and customize to suit their needs, now more easily thanks to the Classroom Magic AI.

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