AIming for Integration: Embracing Artificial Intelligence as a Useful Tool in the Classroom

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made remarkable advancements in various fields, and education is no exception. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in integrating AI technologies into the education sector to enhance the learning experience for students and teachers alike. AI brings new possibilities to the table by providing personalized and adaptive learning experiences, automating administrative tasks, assisting in grading and feedback, and enabling intelligent tutoring systems. The use of AI in education has the potential to revolutionize the way we learn and teach, increasing efficiency, effectiveness, and accessibility in education.

It is only fair to reveal that the entire previous paragraph was created by ChatGPT from the simple command of “Write an introductory paragraph about the use of AI in education.” That’s it – a simple prompt, a click of a cursor, and an elegant, coherent introduction was immediately created to be used in any way for any purpose. 

It isn’t difficult to see what the issues with AI in the classroom might be. Technology this powerful and easily accessible in the hands of an unsupervised or feebly led student could mean the complete submission to total plagiarism forever in our schools. So, then, what are we, as schools, to do? Though there are, in reality, several approaches to the topic, three have been the front runners in terms of AI usage in schools: ignore the problem completely**, adopt a total outlawing of all AI capabilities, or adopt a vigilant acceptance of it as a tool for both students and education professionals. 

(**Note: For the purposes of this post, we will ignore the ignorance option. It can be assumed that if you are reading this article, you cannot be ignoring the issue completely. You must be at least somewhat interested in this topic. So let us discuss the latter two options in the use of this technology in our classrooms.)

Banning Can’t Be the Answer

If we are to ban the use of AI by students, we are missing out on a critical responsibility – teaching our students how to use real world technology within the relatively safe boundaries presented in school. The truth of the matter is that this technology is here and isn’t going anywhere. Our job as educators is not only to present students with timeless literature, complex mathematical principles, and an understanding of the natural world around them. It is also to prepare them for a life on their own outside of our supervision and instruction. 

By banning this technology altogether, we are stating one of two things: either AI isn’t relevant to our students or they should figure out its use on their own. Both of these statements are incorrect. AI does matter to our students. It matters now and it will matter to their careers when they leave our schools. It also matters to those students who are in schools who do embrace this technology in constructive ways. By avoiding AI completely, we separate our own students from those who have been taught how to interact with today’s technology. We must see, too, that AI isn’t something that students should figure out on their own. As in all things, they need confident guidance in order to determine the most appropriate way for this technology to be applied to their own experiences. While this means that teachers and administrators have their own homework to do when it comes to learning this software, it is crucial if we are to guide our students to an applicable understanding of this technology. 

The complete outlawing of AI might seem the easy choice at the moment, but will truly hinder our students from understanding a tool that could not only enhance their learning now, but prepare them for a changing technological world outside of our schools. 

It Starts With Us

In terms of long-term effectiveness, policies that embrace technological advances in AI as tools for deeper content engagement are the better option for students and teachers. As an instructional tool, AI can be an incredible asset. AI in the classroom can be many things: a creativity booster, a peer reviewer, and even a collaborator. Consider the examples below: 

  • Students experiencing a writing or creativity block can find a place to start by asking a chat bot to give them an idea or direction. Knowing this borders precariously on the brink of plagiarism, we discuss strategies for preventing this later in this post. 
  • A writing assignment can be run through an AI bot to check for grammatical and organizational errors (If this scares you, this is what programs such as Grammarly have been doing for years). This post itself was run through ChatGPT to check for those exact things!
  • Students can input ideas they have discussed in class to have them rearranged in a way that they hadn’t thought of before. 

There are numerous ways in which AI can deepen both student engagement and understanding of the material and none of these ways toe the line of integrity or take away from a student’s creativity. 

This integration, though, comes at the cost of teachers and administrators embracing this technology. If we approach these AI generators with apprehension and cynicism ourselves, we will either shy away from using them or be ill-equipped to show our students the true benefit of their use. We must be willing to grapple with these tools ourselves. Use an AI bot to help you create a unit or unit outline for your classes. For differentiated instruction, allow AI software to level your instructions, prompts, and assignments to meet the diverse needs of your students. These tools aren’t just for our students, and by embracing them ourselves, we show them that there are uses that go beyond getting out of a writing assignment. As teachers, we are used to learning new information. We have to be in order to keep up with advancements, discoveries, and inventions that relate to our content areas. AI should be no different. Hesitation in gaining familiarity with these programs will not only deny you a tool for your own preparation and instruction, but will render you incapable of relaying relevant information to your students. 

Addressing Plagiarism Concerns

All this being said, there is absolutely a need for schools to have policies that inhibit students claiming AI generated work as their own. In creating these policies, schools have the monumental task of encouraging and praising student creativity and innovation while also combating the new face of plagiarism. To help with this, there are several solutions. While chat bot programs and companies have their own AI-catching programs that teachers can run their students’ responses through, the best counter move a teacher can employ is simply knowing his or her students and their writing and work styles. Before introducing any of these new AI programs to students, teachers can have students write in class responses and get to know their students in a more analog fashion before going digital. Smaller, in-class writing assignments throughout the year can help teachers stay connected with what their students produce on their own and will allow them to more easily spot work that is not produced by the students themselves. This does take work. Now is definitely not the time for us to put engaging with our students on the backburner. On the contrary, we must be incredibly proactive in engaging with our students so we can more easily distinguish between them and the bot they used on their last paper. Unfortunately, plagiarism and cheating will always be around. But through intentional and innovative strategies in the classroom, teachers can adapt to a changing online environment and can still have a thriving classroom in which students present their own work in an integritous way. 

Our Opportunity as Independent Schools

The real question is not about AI’s relevance or its potential benefit. Even the most passionate of critics could agree that in the right context, some uses of AI are acceptable and reasonable. The most pressing question on our minds as educators is what a day-to-day incorporation of AI looks like. In truth, that can’t be answered in one blog post. This will look different depending on many factors: school, student age, accessibility of technology in school, subject, school mission and beliefs, and a number of others. But together, as independent schools, we have a unique opportunity to set our own paths forward through issues such as these. We can champion the integration of advancements such as AI because we have the freedom and ability to adapt in a way that makes sense to our students, families, and faculty, not to the whims of a school district or public school requirement. No matter how schools approach AI, the world outside of our classrooms and schools is not slowing down in its advancement and use on an everyday basis. Therefore our answer cannot be to shy away from learning for ourselves and teaching our students the skills necessary to use artificial intelligence well. Let us embrace this chance to prepare our students for the ever-advancing world outside our classrooms. 

Helpful Links and Articles

NAIS – Member Voices Podcast (Episode 80)

Harvard Grad School of Education – Artificial Intelligence in the Classroom

Ed Week – How Teachers Are Using Artificial Intelligence in Classes Today

Edutopia – 5 Ways to Use AI Tools to Meet Students’ Needs

UAH – Resources and Guidelines for Responsible Use of AI in Schools

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