A Model to Guide Students in Using AI: The Stoplight Approach

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform the way we teach and learn. However, along with this great power comes great responsibility. It is essential for educators to establish clear guidelines for students on the appropriate use of AI in the classroom. This ensures that AI technology serves as a tool to enhance learning rather than a crutch or a means of academic dishonesty.

As teachers returned to school, they were eager to incorporate AI into their instruction. To support them, our coaching team began assisting them in developing clear guidelines for students regarding when it’s appropriate to use AI and when it is not. We believe that AI guidelines should be included in every summative assignment as part of the instructions, guidelines, and rubrics already provided to students.

To simplify and make these guidelines memorable, we have condensed them into three actionable options: red light, yellow light, green light.

Red Light: AI Usage Is Not Permitted in This Activity

This option is straightforward and leaves no room for interpretation. It is particularly useful for assessments or activities that aim to evaluate individual student understanding and skills. By explicitly stating that AI collaboration is not allowed, educators can maintain the integrity of the assessment process.

For assignments that fall under the “red light” category, consider traditional quizzes, exams, or short-answer questions that assess individual knowledge and skills. These activities are designed to evaluate each student’s understanding of the material. Ask yourself if the activity is meant to assess individual understanding and if collaboration could skew the results.

Explaining the rationale behind this restriction is essential. Students are more likely to comply with rules when they understand the reasoning behind them. Teachers can have conversations with students about the importance of individual assessment in these cases. They can explain how this type of evaluation helps identify areas where improvement is needed and why academic honesty is a valuable skill throughout their educational journey and beyond. Providing context helps students see the bigger picture and appreciate the importance of adhering to guidelines.

Providing clarity is especially important when students are working independently from home. When students are not physically present in the classroom, they may be tempted to seek AI assistance when they shouldn’t. Therefore, it is crucial for educators to set clear expectations about when AI collaboration is allowed and when it is not. Just as teachers have guidelines for plagiarism and citing sources, they can also have guidelines for AI use.

While it’s true that some students may not always adhere to the guidelines when working from home, it is important to recognize that teaching responsible AI usage is a valuable educational opportunity. Instead of simply restricting AI access, we should aim to empower students with the knowledge and understanding they need to make responsible choices.

Yellow Light: Permission from Teacher Required Before Using AI

This option offers a balanced approach, allowing for the possibility of AI usage while maintaining oversight. The “yellow light” option is particularly useful for long-term projects that require extensive research, group activities where individual contributions contribute to a collective grade, or case studies that could benefit from multiple perspectives.

Incorporating AI tools into the classroom, such as Magicschool.ai, Diffit, and Perplexity, can enhance the learning experience in these scenarios. These technologies offer valuable resources that, when used with guidance and permission, can amplify students’ abilities to explore, learn, and contribute collectively. It is in these nuanced situations that the “yellow light” approach shines, facilitating the responsible integration of AI into the learning process, promoting teamwork, and fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

When students ask for permission to use AI, it opens the door for meaningful dialogue. Teachers can ask students to explain what they hope to achieve with the aid of AI and how it aligns with the objectives of the activity. This conversation also provides an opportunity to discuss the ethical considerations of using AI, such as the importance of citing sources when incorporating external content. By requiring permission, educators can ensure that students have a clear understanding of the activity’s objectives and how AI can appropriately aid in achieving them.

Green Light: Students Are Encouraged to Use AI Software

This option is the most open, encouraging students to explore the capabilities of AI in their learning journey. Assignments that are ideal for the “green light” option include creative writing tasks where AI can serve as a brainstorming tool, research projects that involve gathering and analyzing large sets of data, or activities that encourage innovation, such as coding projects or design tasks.

However, the openness of this option necessitates a robust framework for ethical usage and academic integrity. Before diving in, students are required to discuss their planned approach with the teacher. This ensures that the use of AI complements rather than replaces human effort. The conversation also serves as a checkpoint for discussing how to properly indicate AI collaboration in their work and reinforcing the importance of transparency and ethical conduct.

Managing the “green light” option when dealing with a large number of students will certainly require planning. One strategy that teachers can employ to effectively oversee this open approach is to establish online discussion forums or collaboration spaces where students can share their plans for integrating AI into their work. These platforms can provide students with a space to post their ideas, seek feedback from both peers and the teacher, and foster a sense of collaboration.

Conversations and Considerations

These guidelines serve as a framework for teachers when assigning work. They are communicated explicitly at the outset of any assignment or activity where AI collaboration could be a factor. The advance notice is crucial; students are more likely to adhere to rules when they are aware of them beforehand and understand the reasoning behind them.

The conversation between educator and student during the “permission phase” of the yellow and green light options is invaluable. It serves not just as a checkpoint but as a teachable moment, helping students learn the nuances of academic integrity and ethical technology usage.

A valuable strategy to manage a full roster of students is to schedule regular check-in sessions, either individually or in small groups. During these sessions, teachers can discuss each student’s AI usage plan, offer personalized guidance, and ensure that ethical standards are upheld.

The integration of AI in education is not a matter of if but when. As educators, we have the responsibility to guide our students in navigating this new landscape ethically and effectively. By being clear about the guidelines for AI usage in classroom activities, we can foster an environment that encourages innovation while maintaining academic integrity.

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