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Poway Unified School District embraces AI in the classroom

District instructs kids and teachers when and how to use AI effectively
Microsoft makes reductions in ethics AI team amid ChatGPT work
Posted at 11:42 AM, Aug 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-16 14:42:43-04

POWAY, Calif (KGTV) - As schools around the country return to class this fall, many are debating if and how to use artificial intelligence in the classroom.

In San Diego County, Poway Unified School District has already decided they're all-in on AI.

"When I hear AI or artificial intelligence, I think the next evolution in technology," said Dr. Jennifer Burks, Poway Unified’s Associate Superintendent of Technology and Innovation. "I think there's a way to do it with grace."

Dr. Burks spent the summer pioneering a new "Digital Citizenship" program for the district. It focuses on how to be smart and safe online; she believes learning about AI is part of that.

"We're really teaching students how to understand AI and how to use it in both an ethical and safe way," Burks said.

Dr. Burks pointed out that adapting to and incorporating new technology is nothing new for schools. She pointed to the use of calculators, computers, the internet and cellphones as things that were once controversial in the classroom. Now, they're common. Adding AI to that mix is just the next step in what she calls evolution of education.

"I was teaching when the world wide web came out," she said. "That kind of really changed education. It changed the way that we were doing education. This is really another way that we're going to change education."

In classrooms, Dr. Burks said AI should be used as a tool to help find an answer, not as a shortcut to get the answer for them.

And for teachers, it can make lessons and prep time more efficient, which frees up time to work with students.

"I would love to give an assignment to students that says try it, start here, and think about how much you had to go back to edit it and how much you had to do to make sure the sources are credible," Dr. Burks explained as one example of a possible way to incorporate AI into a lesson.

To help teachers understand other ways to use AI, Dr. Burks and her team spent the summer giving presentation to teachers and principals across the district.

They also plan to hold on-site coaching sessions and open office hours throughout the year.

She pointed out that many people are already comfortable with AI, even if they don't realize it.

"We use it in Alexa. We use it in Roomba. We use it in so many ways. We use it in autocomplete,” she said.

But there is a valid concern over cheating and plagiarism with AI Programs like ChatGPT.

Dr. Burks believes many teachers already have safeguards built against that in their classrooms.

For one, she said most teachers know their students and their abilities. So, if a student turns in an assignment that seems dramatically out of line with their other work, it can be a warning sign.

Also, many teachers focus their assignments on the process over the finished product, with smaller tasks and check points along the way to a due date. That can help teachers keep tabs on the work. Dr. Burks said it also eliminates some of the last-minute stress that can lead to a student asking AI to do the assignment for them.

And, she said, if there is an instance of a student using AI improperly, it can be a teachable moment to start a conversation about the ethics of AI.

All this leads to a better understanding of the latest innovation in education.

"Does AI have a place? And I think it does," said Dr. Burks. "So, really, how do we make sure that students see that in a safe, ethical, and a balanced way?"