AI Presence Unprecedented:; Now Ubiquitous yet Invisible

When discussing digital technology in education, the pace at which educators and school systems typically adapt has not been swift. Artificial intelligence, however, is challenging this norm. While many teachers are eagerly embracing AI, school systems are lagging behind, moving cautiously or sometimes not at all.

Among the potential responses by school systems, two extreme choices stand out. On one hand, some could completely reject AI, a stance initially taken by districts like New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. On the other hand, some might hastily incorporate AI without a clear educational purpose, succumbing to pressure from AI vendors and superintendents seeking to demonstrate bold leadership. Schools must be wary of blindly following the AI trend and repeating past educational fads like open classrooms in the 1970s and whole language in the 80s.

Unlike outdated technologies like CD-ROMs, AI is a rapidly evolving and transformative technology. School systems need to act swiftly yet thoughtfully to chart a sensible and educationally sound path forward. Effective policies will purposefully integrate AI to facilitate long-term progress for students and schools.

The key to moving forward successfully? Instead of fixating on AI itself, the focus should be on identifying critical educational challenges and then leveraging AI to address them.

Initially Adrift

Adoption of AI in districts has been varied, with many schools shifting between different approaches. Several major city districts initially banned ChatGPT shortly after its launch in November 2022, only to later retract these bans and start encouraging the use of AI tools.

For instance, Walla Walla Public Schools in Washington State first prohibited ChatGPT but subsequently reversed the policy and provided training to teachers on utilizing AI tools.

“[I was] a little bit red-faced, a little bit embarrassed that we had blocked [ChatGPT] in the spring,” admitted Keith Ross, the district’s director of technology and information services, in an interview with a local news outlet. “It really shed light that we need to not wait on this and get moving and find out how to supply the tool to the students.”

Surveys of educators and administrators reflect similar shifts. In a late 2023 EdWeek Research Center survey, about 20% of teachers noted a lack of clear AI policies in their districts, with a similar percentage stating that students were not permitted to use AI. The survey also revealed that over half of teachers anticipate increased AI usage in schools in the upcoming year.

According to a November 2023 survey by edtech company eSpark, only 4% of districts had a formal AI usage policy, with a significant portion working on one, while others had yet to commence developing such policies. Despite the increasing interest in AI, proper evaluation of AI tools remains limited, with an influx of new AI-based educational products in the market.

With the rise of AI tools like ChatGPT, MagicSchool, and Ethiqly, educators like Rachel Morey from Pennsylvania have integrated these programs into their daily instructional routines, enabling them to streamline lesson planning, assessment creation, and student support while saving time.

Tools and Guidance Emerge

To bridge the gap between policy and practice, districts must prioritize safeguarding student and teacher data and establishing guidelines around plagiarism and academic integrity when using AI-powered tools. While the landscape of AI is rapidly evolving, districts should focus on fundamental principles to ensure responsible and effective use of AI in education.

In October 2023, the Consortium for School Networking and the Council of the Great City Schools released a “K–12 Generative AI Readiness Checklist,” designed to assess districts’ readiness for AI implementation across various domains. Furthermore, TeachAI introduced an “AI Guidance for Schools Toolkit” in collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders, outlining a framework for integrating AI responsibly in educational settings.

States like North Carolina and Ohio have also taken steps to provide guidance to districts on evaluating and implementing AI technologies in line with existing policies and educational objectives. This coordinated effort aims to ensure that AI tools are used effectively and securely within school environments.

Principles to Design a Path to Progress

Despite the complexities surrounding AI integration in education, districts must strike a balance between cautiousness and haste in adopting AI technologies. Scott Muri, superintendent of Ector County Independent School District in Texas, emphasizes the importance of aligning AI use with a clear vision for educational outcomes.

Education expert Tom Vander Ark suggests shifting the focus from merely incorporating AI to leveraging it to enhance learning experiences and student outcomes. The key lies in aligning AI implementation with the district’s mission, goals, and values, rather than pursuing technology for its own sake.

By adopting a thoughtful design thinking approach, schools can identify specific problems, set measurable goals, and prioritize student and teacher experiences before delving into AI deployment. This strategic approach ensures that AI adoption in schools is purposeful and sustainable in the long run.

Michael B. Horn is an executive editor of Education Next, co-founder of and a distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, and author of From Reopen to Reinvent.

The post AI Is Officially Here, There, Everywhere, and Nowhere appeared first on Education Next.

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