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How Are Boise Schools Adapting to Increased AI Use?

School officials in both Meridian and Nampa, Idaho, have seen their students increasingly use artificial intelligence in their work, which has prompted some school districts to create a task force to propose new policies.

As school districts in Idaho's Treasure Valley see a rise in the use of artificial intelligence, educators say they’re figuring out ways to ensure the new tools are being used responsibly and don’t impede student learning.

School officials in Meridian and Nampa told the Idaho Statesman that they’ve seen students increasingly use AI in their work. In Nampa, administrators have created a task force to recommend to the district any changes or policies to implement. The West Ada School District plans to expand teachers’ resources to allow them the ability to detect AI-generated work, spokesperson Nicole Scheppers told the Statesman by email.

“As a district, we are aware of the growing use of AI by students and have taken the role of leading learning toward the use of AI in a responsible manner,” Scheppers said. “West Ada will add ... the ability for teachers to determine areas in student work that may have been AI-generated to ensure we are able to reinforce ethical practices and genuine student learning.”

Scheppers said West Ada has also provided guidance for teachers on what qualifies as cheating when students use AI, ways to promote ethical use of it and other resources. She said the district has software that monitors internet access on its devices, lets teachers monitor students’ screens, and identifies potential plagiarism in student work. Scheppers didn’t respond to follow-up questions seeking additional details about the software.

Drew Williams, Nampa School District’s K-12 blended learning specialist, told the Statesman the district has seen a rise in students using ChatGPT, a chatbot that uses AI to replicate realistic dialogue, to cheat in the past couple of months. The trend has been most common in language arts classes and at the high-school level, she said.

Williams said teachers and faculty have told her that students’ use of ChatGPT has made it challenging to identify how much students really learned, and whether they’re developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

If teachers suspect students of cheating, she said, they might ask students to provide information on their sources and where they got the information to assess their knowledge in the topic.

Because technology is moving fast, Williams said, it will be a slow process of understanding the full impact that ChatGPT and AI technology will have on education. The task force is in the early stages and has no deadline to complete its research, she added. But it plans to seek input from educators and will later open the meetings to students and parents as well.

Having a foundation of understanding of how to generate code in a computer science class and how to structure a paragraph effectively by doing their own writing before using tools to help draft, refine, and evaluate are important learning skills for students, Williams said. The Nampa School District currently blocks ChatGPT and other AI tools from school-issued devices for students but not for teachers.

“Teachers are figuring this out and everybody’s figuring this out,” Williams said. “Hopefully we can really put together recommendations that will lead us forward and help prepare kids, because that’s what our job is at the end of the day.”

The Boise School District didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Can AI be Used as a Learning Tool?

In West Ada’s statement, Scheppers acknowledged that rapidly developing technology, such as ChatGPT, can be used in responsible ways and can be “powerful tools to assist in the teaching and learning process.”

“We want students to develop critical thinking skills that will help students learn to problem solve rather than engage in learning that is solely focused on ‘answer getting,’” Scheppers said. “As educators, it is imperative that we learn about and engage in AI tools.”

Yu-hui Ching, associate professor of educational technology at Boise State University, told the Statesman that benefits can arise from the use of ChatGPT and other AI features for educational purposes. Specifically, Ching said AI could aid in reducing teacher burnout following the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Ching said educators could use AI tools to generate tests and multiple-choice questions.

Instead of students using ChatGPT and other AI tools to generate work, Ching said students could instead learn to use the technology as a learning companion. For example, if teachers can’t address the immediate needs of a student and answer questions, then students could instead input a question into an AI tool.

“If teachers can learn how to use this generative AI more efficiently in teaching, it has a lot of potential to help fight teacher burnout and help teacher retention,” Ching said.

Ching worries that AI is going to affect white collar workers. Ching said she anticipates the fields most affected will be education, journalism, graphic design, software engineering and most computer science programs that require generating code.

©2023 The Idaho Statesman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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