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Tool or trouble? How local schools see use of artificial intelligence in the classroom

The rise of artificial intelligence tools, such as language model Chat GPT, has led to necessary adaptations among teachers and school districts.
AI in Schools, Chat GPT, 2023
Posted at 7:54 PM, Aug 16, 2023

As kids head back to school, teachers are working behind the scenes, embracing a tool that is just a click away. 

We asked Chat GPT, an artificial intelligence language model, to create a riddle for the word marshmallow.

The answer was ready in seconds.

"And you can see it's going to use all of this like, 'Arr, matey,'" Ashley Smith said, referring to a response from Chat GPT now on her computer screen. "And it's going to load all these pieces that, as a teacher, it will take me a very long time — if I was even capable of coming up with it."

Smith is the curriculum director at Lucia Mar Unified School District and she is training teachers to explore artificial intelligence.

"How can we avoid the like, 'Oh, shut it down' and learn to use it as a supportive tool both for teachers teaching and using lesson plans?" Smith said.

Members of San Luis Coastal Unified School District are also incorporating AI in their classes.

"We had a collaboration between some of our teachers where they used a tool to do AI art generation," Christine Robertson said, who is the executive director of the San Luis Coastal Education Foundation. "And the art that was created then served as a creative writing prompt for students"

AI saves time and enhances creativity — and schools are finding many ways to use it.

"Leveling text is a really good one," Smith said. "So maybe I found this text — it's really great, but it's written at like a seventh-grade level and I teach fourth grade. So, you can actually ask [it] to give the same information, but for a fourth-grade reading level and then it will spit that out. And now you can differentiate your text for the kids sitting in front of you with very little work."

There are ethical concerns, though, over its potential misuse, particularly among students who may use it to cheat when writing papers or other assignments.

A 2023 report from the Department of Education rejected the idea that AI could replace teachers. The study found that AI is a supporting tool that can lower costs but, on the downside, it could widen achievement gaps.

"Our school district has been extremely proactive in thinking about how to put in place certain guardrails and protections while not completely closing the door for AI to be part of how students learn," Robertson said.

Don’t worry, traditional models are still in place.

"We're not discouraging teachers from doing just a good old-fashioned right-in-the-classroom, pens, paper — no technology available," Smith said. "It's about that voice and teaching kids to have that when they write. And that's something that AI can't do."

As this technology emerges, the Department of Education is planning to keep a close eye on it to maximize its potential and reduce unintended consequences.

The Lucia Mar Unified School District says that they offer weekly professional development courses called 'Tuesday tidbits.' Teachers can sign up and learn new tools throughout the school year.