Leading the Integration of AI in a School System

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The sudden release of ChatGPT to the general public in November of 2022 presented a number of new challenges to educational leaders, forcing them to add consideration of artificial intelligence (AI) systems to their to-do lists, which were already too long.

One year later, AI systems are continuing to evolve and are already having an impact on education and other important aspects of American society, so developing plans for dealing with AI has become a necessity. To help education leaders work with school system stakeholders and implement effective plans, experts in the edLeader Panel “AI: Embracing the Opportunity” discussed ways to manage AI’s impact on education.

Starting with a basic understanding of AI is crucial, and one important point brought out during the discussion is that AI is not really a separate intelligence. According to Larry Cocco, Senior Professional Learning Consultant at edWeb.net, it really is a form of “machine learning based on training,” which provides responses based on probability. And while these systems offer administrators and educators advantages and opportunities, the current systems also have pitfalls and can create problems if not carefully managed.

The advantages of AI systems include the speed with which they can perform routine tasks, provide access to information, and generate text and images. The disadvantages start with their being “only as smart as the data they were trained on,” so they may provide misinformation and disinformation, include biases derived from their training, and deliver content that is obsolete, inappropriate, and not aligned with state or district guidelines.

Initial Planning

A good starting point for educational leaders is the recent white paper on AI from the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. Its recommendations for developing AI policies include keeping humans in the loop, designing AI systems using modern learning principles, and developing a shared vision that can strengthen trust. The paper also recommends developing education-specific guidelines and guardrails for AI.

Dr. Erik Gundersen, Superintendent of Suffern Central School District (NY), recommends starting with surveys and discussions to determine what educators and other stakeholders know about AI and what their views about it are.

As with other educational innovations, there are likely to be people who are excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities, as well as resistors who have concerns about AI or are just not interested in evolving. He also suggested developing AI-related professional development circles within a district or school building so the enthusiasts can rally around each other, exchange ideas, and build awareness.

Dr. Matthew Murphy, Retired Superintendent of Ramsey School District (NJ), emphasized the importance of including parents in the process, noting that many parents are concerned about AI’s impact because it can be used to cheat and might be used as a substitute for traditional instruction and activities.

He suggested making AI a topic in parent academies, so parents and educators develop a shared understanding of what AI systems are and can do, and how their use within schools will be developed and managed.

Long-Term Considerations

Dr. Chandra Orrill, Executive Director of Rethink Learning Labs, believes that educators will not be able to exclude AI systems from schools in the years ahead, and instead will need to provide ways for students to gain experience with AI systems safely. Data privacy is a key concern, as AI systems have the potential to capture and distribute personal information about students, including their questions and any content they use an AI system to generate.

A related issue pointed out by Dr. Gundersen is that some districts currently do not allow access to AI systems such as ChatGPT on school-issued devices, but students who have personal devices at home can still access the systems and develop a better understanding of the systems outside of school. This creates an equity issue, putting students whose families can’t afford personal devices at a disadvantage, similar to what occurred in some districts during the COVID lockdown.

In regard to curriculum, instruction, and assessment, Dr. Murphy noted that he and others had previously advocated for teaching computer programming or coding in schools, but now that AI systems can generate their own code, there is concern among programmers that the systems could make some coding jobs obsolete. The priority going forward, in his opinion, is “not just what students know, but what they can do with what they know,” so developing the ability to transfer learning to new situations is very important.

For Dr. Orrill, who has experience as a math teacher, the response to AI should be similar to the rethinking of math instruction that occurred when calculators became widely available. Now as then, there’s an opportunity to reconsider the way students engage with ideas, rather than simply having them memorize information and perform calculations when they already “have a supercomputer in their pocket.” A new approach could include having students spend more time on inquiry-based active learning, as well as considering how AI systems can be used in ways that are both productive and ethical.

For education leaders who are now just starting to consider the integration of AI systems into their schools, suggestions from the panelists included attending webinars, bringing in outside experts, and reviewing initial research so the leaders can engage in legitimate conversations with their teams. Lastly, Dr. Orrill suggested even asking ChatGPT how it can be used in schools, which she has tried and found to result in some interesting responses.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, AI: Embracing the Opportunity, sponsored by Eduscape.

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Eduscape is a social innovation company dedicated to developing and implementing solutions to challenging and systemic issues that elevate the educational experience for all learners. Our team of experienced educators believes that when the teacher becomes an active participant in the learning process, innovation can happen in the classroom. Eduscape’s diverse portfolio of services includes professional learning solutions and curriculum development, with a focus on topics including social-emotional wellbeing, coding, and instruction, ESL, culturally responsive teaching and school leadership. We also offer workshops on Google Workspace for Education and Microsoft 365. Eduscape offers professional learning solutions, either virtual, onsite and/or online.

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Article by Robert Low, based on this edLeader Panel.