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Brice Gamble, a teacher on special assignment in the Pacific Grove Unified School District, sees how teachers deal with the presence of artificial intelligence in the classroom firsthand.
As a curriculum coach, he was present at a staff collaboration about AI, where teachers voiced their concerns. Gamble noted that there’s a distinct worry that parents may feel teachers won’t be doing their jobs if AI enters the classroom. But like other new technologies such as calculators and computers, AI could have educational value if used in similar ways.
“AI can be used to make a rough draft idea of something, say, an exercise that will engage kids, and then the teacher can go in and make edits,” says Gamble. “Teachers need time to build curriculum and want to use that time to actually work with those students. Having tools allows that room.”
Local schools and districts are working to write frameworks on how to use AI – which means for now leaving it up to teachers and administrators to adapt and address AI use on a case-by-case basis.
“Teachers are in the trenches,” says Mark Clark, a Spanish teacher at Pacific Grove Middle School. “Policymakers, maybe they were teachers once upon a time, but they talk about [AI] in abstract, while in many cases, teachers talk about its applications in the classroom, right here, right now.”
Artificial intelligence in our classrooms isn’t necessarily new. The grammar and spell check in a laptop is AI, albeit more limited than what schools are figuring out, which is called generative artificial intelligence. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Naveed Sherwani says, “What generative AI does is look at data and create models… then uses that data to infer outcomes. It’s not creating anything new.”
Generative AI is present in services like ChatGPT: while it might seem like it’s holding a conversation, all it does is predict what’s most likely to come next based on what it’s been trained on. So when it’s tasked to write an essay, which will likely include bits of pre-existing work, issues of academic integrity arise.
Local schools are already aware of this and have worked to provide tools to combat this since ChatGPT’s release last year. As districts continue to collect data, they try to provide guidance to teachers. Teri Pimentel, the public information officer of Monterey County Office of Education says, “Given a common concern around plagiarizing with AI, some districts are using tools to detect AI-generated text.” Educators also branch out in their assignments, as AI struggles with certain tasks – more open-ended assignments could put a stop to using AI to cheat.
But AI does excel at certain tasks, which could be a boon for schools. Pimentel added that they’re interested in utilizing AI as an educational tool to create personalized learning experiences, provide tutoring and support, assess student progress, and automate administrative tasks. These are ways that teachers would be able to manage classrooms rather than having to stay on the defense with AI.
In fact, teachers are already using tools like aiEDU and Diffit, that help provide educational resources. The director of educational technology at Pacific Grove School District, Matthew Binder, says “We estimate that 70 to 75% of teachers have used some form of AI this year.” For middle school teachers, the primary group the district has received responses from about AI, they’ve used it in drafting email responses and creating rubrics. But the district encourages teachers to vet that work before actually putting it into use.
Binder deals with technology and cybersecurity for those using school networks, and right now, that means a focus on teachers. “There aren’t any steps for AI integration for student experience, since the policies are pretty restrictive in terms of age and parental consent,” Binder says. That expressed concern has led to AI use being restricted from students for now as Binder’s team considers safety concerns and data privacy agreements.
At the college level though, students no longer require parental consent to use AI services and can interact with it directly. Jill Hosmer-Jolley, an adjunct professor at California State University Monterey Bay, is currently discussing that with her students. “Last spring, my students reported there were instructors who banned the use of AI.”
Hosmer-Jolley doesn’t want to go down that path, though. Considering that AI tools are available for workplaces now, she says “We know there will be an expectation to be able to use AI.” Like at the district level, there aren’t any university-wide policies on AI yet, though deans of each college at CSUMB have addressed it in different ways.
In the meantime, Hosmer-Jolley has started to teach her students to utilize AI in productive ways and is planning to teach a course on the topic. Some of the more unique ways she’s used AI include instructing students how to use ChatGPT to help revise—not rewrite—their work. These kinds of applications could very well trickle down to high school and middle school levels in the future.
So what direction will AI take education in the future? Most are cautiously optimistic. Hosmer-Jolley reports her students are more excited and less afraid of engaging with these tools when instructed on them. “The more informed (students) are… the more they can impact decisions.” Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Deneen Guss looks to the future, saying, “As we move forward with AI, we must harness the positive aspects with ways to improve learning outcomes for students, as well as identify and address any challenges as it integrates into our educational system.”
For now, teachers will continue to educate themselves and their students on AI as districts get a better understanding of how it affects local schools. Pacific Grove School District is meeting with high school teachers and surveying their usage. Binder says, “They’ll give us data that lets us craft frameworks around best practices. There won’t be any formal requirements to use AI, just something like a ‘best practices’ type manual.”
As AI evolves rapidly, Dr. Judi Fusco, a cognitive scientist who works at the global nonprofit Digital Promise, says she encourages local schools to take their time. “There’s so much pressure to go fast… I think it’s OK to take a moment to figure it out. And if districts don’t take that moment and they don’t involve teachers, families, students, and communities, they’re gonna make decisions that do not work for their communities.”
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