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Evolving artificial intelligence brings new conversations over its place in education

Above all else, one thing has been seizing the attention of schools across the world. It has great benefits and great drawbacks. It is generative AI. Schools everywhere are grappling with how and when to use it, if at all. Ever since the end of last year, when rough initial policies were put into place, Saint Louis U. High has formed two committees to ascertain both how AI can improve student learning, and how faculty can use it to improve their teaching. 

art I Colin Schuler

For now the policy is very straightforward. Students are unable to use AI in schoolwork unless given explicit permission by their teacher. If permission is granted, they’re allowed to use it in that class only.

To enforce the current policy, SLUH is also piloting a new piece of software that can determine, with relatively good accuracy, the authenticity of student works. 

However, moving forward in utilizing AI requires more than a zero-use policy. The essential balance that has to be struck is the ability to crack down on generative AI that is used negatively, while bolstering efforts to use AI positively. 

“We’ll certainly have teachers driving the decisions about how AI is used in their classes,” said Assistant Principal for Academics Kevin Foy. “The problem with anything that’s evolving so rapidly is that the policy we would have written in January of last year would almost be irrelevant, because AI has increased so dramatically.”

This leaves a shaky line to maintain, which is where the two committees come into play.

The first is a subcommittee of the Instructional Council that focuses on AI and faculty. 

“Pre-AI, you can jump on Google and say ‘What are some cool ideas for lesson plans for my class?’ And then you would get a zillion hits that you would then have to go (through) and weed out all the garbage it comes up with in order to find the good stuff. That’s fine, (but) it’s so cumbersome that I think a lot of people don’t do it,” said Foy. “It’s a lot less cumbersome now, because AI does these evaluations. It does them, in some cases, pretty well, and in other cases, pretty poorly. So you have to figure out where the good and the bad are.” 

The job of the committee is to figure out where the good and the bad are, why they’re there, and ensure investment up front, in order to lay out as much organization as possible for teachers using AI to improve themselves.

Although AI is creating jobs right now, there is a high probability of some jobs becoming obsolete in the future. That’s where the second committee comes in, being more honed in to plotting out where AI is going.

“All we want here is for kids to learn. This is a tool that has a lot of potential in good, and a lot of potential in bad, so we have to figure out how to guide students in the right direction so they don't wind up not picking up essential skills,” said Foy. “And then we’re going to have to figure out that AI will replace some skills that are currently essential, which makes the skills that it doesn’t replace that much more essential. If we’re preparing people to go get jobs that AI is going to destroy, that’s a huge problem. So, we’ve got to figure out what AI can’t do, and make our students really, really good at it.”

Similarly to committees, inter-school conferences play a huge role in helping schools figure out where they’re going with AI. The theme of the Jesuit Schools Network Principals Conference, attended by Principal Matt Stewart, SJ a few weeks ago, was nearly entirely on AI and how to think about it. The conference had a number of experts and keynote speakers to teach schools not what to think about generative AI, but how to think about it as it applied to their school specifically.

“It was a conference that helped me frame how to ask the right questions,” said Stewart.

At the end of the day, schools on both sides of the artificial aisle still share a common mission. 

“The policy will always be about the point of coming to St. Louis U. High is to learn,” said Foy. “If AI is helping you learn, we can talk about that. If AI is short-circuiting the learning process, we will never be okay with that.”

 

 


 

 

 

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