As the school bell rings for a new academic year, education leaders across the country are facing a different kind of homework - addressing the challenge and ethics of AI usage in classrooms.
Previously dismissed as yet another shortcut to plagiarize work, AI platforms like ChatGPT are now rapidly being accepted and integrated as vital components of everyday learning tools.
Not a long time ago, artificial intelligence in schools was viewed dubiously by education heads across the country.
Concerns notably escalated with the introduction of ChatGPT in November, which demonstrated writing capabilities potentially equal to, if not greater than, those of students themselves.
Faced with the potentially destabilizing effect of these tech tools being readily available to students, school districts made efforts in the previous academic year to establish virtual boundaries separating them from AI.
AI in classrooms was initially seen as fostering a 'shortcut culture' rather than authentic educational development. Educational institutions wrestled with the issue of how these algorithms could promote plagiarism or permit students to slack.
While these platforms were initially met with precaution from educators, schools are now becoming more pragmatic in the new academic year.
Rather than banning these tools outright, institutions have started to explore ways they can be used as helpful learning aids. This mindset change reflects growing recognition of generative AI's potential benefits, if used correctly, for educational purposes.
For instance, several high school teachers have assigned students projects involving ChatGPT. One such project involves asking the chatbot to compose poetry in a specific style, after which students analyze the generated content, shared Janella T. Hinds, Vice President for Academic High Schools at the United Federation of Teachers.
Another example is Los Angeles Unified, the country's second-largest district, developing a school-specific chatbot called "Ed". Despite initially banning ChatGPT on district devices, they acknowledged the benefits of such technology and have since deployed their chatbot across 100 schools.
Accessible through smartphones, "Ed" offers a variety of features designed to encourage academic growth and organizational skills.
This bot not only reminds students to complete assignments, but also assists parents in accessing their children’s grades and attendance records.
Within six months, "Ed" will be expanded to all district schools. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho praised the software at a school year kickoff event as “that voice that speaks to you early in the morning, late in the evening, wakes you up, nudges you, reminds you of your attendance, your homework,”.
In New York City, Schools Chancellor David Banks articulated the district's decision to embrace generative AI despite having banned it earlier.
After heated debates and consultations with educators across the city, who had already begun incorporating AI into their classrooms, Banks' position on AI evolved significantly. Students debating ethical issues surrounding AI prejudice, reinforced his belief in promoting informed discussions about this novel technology.
Under Bank’s leadership, New York City schools not only lifted some restrictions on ChatGPT, but began actively embracing its possibilities for transforming education systems - from personalized lesson plans to smart administrative tools - while ensuring a balanced understanding of both its power and associated risks.
Despite embracing this new found tool, schools do not neglect worries about possible misuse.
Keeping a check on these new rules is quite tricky, mainly because there isn't any fail-safe way yet to tell for sure if content was created by a person or whipped up by a machine.
Companies claiming they can detect AI-written pieces receive skepticism from many education professionals who argue such promises often prove unrealistic. Even the most advanced tools can't always accurately determine what is human-written.
“There are some companies right now that claim that they can detect AI,” said education researcher H. Alix Gallagher from Stanford University during an interview. “I would recommend suspicion about the promises of catching cheating. And anything that says we can preserve the status quo is, I think, untrue.”
This whole back-and-forth we've seen with AI in schools has made one thing crystal clear: as future tech keeps seeping into all corners of our world, including classrooms, it's for sure gonna shake up how we think about teaching.
But this doesn't mean teachers get to ignore the tricky bits that come along with using this kind of cutting-edge technology - we have to figure out how to use these new tools without letting things go off the rails.
Truth is, nobody can predict exactly what's around the corner with AI and how it will disrupt education.
A lot of teachers though are starting to see generative AI less like a scary game-changer and more like a secret weapon: remember when calculators first started popping up in math classes?
These new tools could take over some of those boring bits so kids have more time to wrap their heads around bigger ideas.