by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent

You may have heard about artificial intelligence (AI) or ChatGPT coming to your schools. Some of the largest school systems in the country have banned the use of AI in schools since the November debut of ChatGPT due to concerns about cheating and plagiarism.

However, I believe that educators and administrators should embrace AI and bring it into classroom inquiry and discussion since it will be part of our students’ future. Students need to learn how to navigate these systems, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and recognize how AI can be misused or biased. The truth is that AI has been in our schools for some time.

The integration of technology into education is not new. When the Internet first launched in the 1990s, there were concerns about its impact, such as disruption of the learning process and uncertainty about incorporating it into classroom instruction. There were also concerns about the accuracy and reliability of information, given that anyone could publish on the web.

In the past, there were also concerns with calculators, laptops, YouTube, and iPads. Many educators recognized the power and potential of these tools to enhance and enrich teaching and learning. Today, these technologies are ubiquitous in our students’ lives.

“ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that allows you have to human-like conversations and much more with the chatbot,” according to Think of it like a digital assistant that learns over time.

The technology is accelerating so quickly a group of AI developers, including Elon Musk, have called for a six month pause on machine learning. A case in point – November’s software is already outdated. OpenAI has announced plug-ins to expand the chatbot’s functionality and launched GPT-4, a new subscription-based service that can process 10 trillion words and process pictures, graphics, and charts. The next version will reportedly allow users to access videos on the web and social media. Other AI tools are available through Google, Microsoft, and other developers.

AI tools like ChatGPT can provide students with quick access to information and resources, personalized real-time feedback on assignments or writing, a means to explore new topics, develop study plans, or break down complex ideas. Teachers can use it to supplement their lesson planning, automate existing tasks, or identify areas where students are struggling.

However, there are concerns over the overreliance on technology, potentially overshadowing the importance of human interaction. Additionally, there are concerns about privacy and data collection, as well as bias and inaccurate information. The fact that ChatGPT’s answers can be wrong provides an opportunity for critical thinking exercises or for students to evaluate it like an instructor would evaluate their work.

One of the biggest concerns is that students can use AI to cheat on assignments or plagiarize content. While this is a concern, it is worth noting that this is possible with current tools such as Google.

Education expert Bill Daggett recently spoke to local superintendents about the importance of future-driven learning or preparing our students for their future rather than our past. He explained how we are moving from the age of information technology (IT) to the age of AI. Our students will need to be equipped with the skills and tools to decipher and think critically about these innovations.

The Successful Practices Network out of Ballston Spa explored this topic at a recent national webinar with the following driving questions:

  1. In what ways can AI tools be used to enhance personalized learning and better cater to individual student needs?
  2. What potential challenges might educators face in implementing AI technologies in the classroom, and how can they be addressed?
  3. How can we ensure that AI tools are used responsibly and ethically to promote inclusivity and equal opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds?
  4. What measures can be taken to ensure data privacy and security as AI-powered tools become more prevalent in educational settings?
  5. How can we prepare both educators and students to effectively utilize AI technologies and adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of education?
  6. What role can industry and educational institutions play in collaborating to develop AI tools that are specifically designed to address the unique challenges faced by educators and learners? 
  7. What ethical considerations should we address as AI-powered tools become more integrated into education?

The emphasis on assessment has caused a focus on facts rather than facilitating learning and unpredictable situations requiring higher-level thinking skills. Preparing students for the age of AI requires a different assessment approach. This has already been implemented in Tech Valley High School’s approach and report cards, as well as in non-mandated courses such as career and technical education (CTE), work-based learning, and the arts.

The late New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills used to say that “we powered off kids when they came to school.” This is no longer the case. Today, there is plenty of technology available and being used. Our challenge moving forward is to rethink what we teach, how we teach it, and how we assess students while balancing foundational learning with the appropriate use of technology.

Ultimately, we need to be thoughtful about AI’s potential use or misuse in public education. As our schools explore this further, they must define clear goals and objectives, develop ethical guidelines, provide training and support, involve stakeholders, ensure data privacy and security, continuously monitor and evaluate its use and effectiveness, and remain transparent in its use.

I encourage you to try out the technology to better understand its use, benefits, and limitations as well as review articles in Edutopia, Fortune, K12Drive, or Wired.

This column appeared in the Register Star and The Daily Mail newspapers.

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