A new school year is upon us and Missouri teachers are dealing with artificial intelligence being used as a tool as well as a weapon.

Artificial intelligence, otherwise known as AI, can allow students to cheat on school work but it can be used as a study partner or coach. It has led some U.S. school districts to ban the use of ChatGPT, a popular digital AI tool.

Melissa Randol, executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association and the Center for Education Safety, said there can be positives and negatives associated with artificial intelligence.

“Students see these both as a tool to help them with their homework and sometimes it goes beyond that,” said Randol. “So, we’re very interested in how can we help students integrate this as a way to enhance their educational opportunities without abusing it.”

She said the education community needs to get in front of some of the tools being used as a weapon.

“With ChatGPT, it’s very difficult,” said Randol. “It’s sophisticated enough to get around those flags for plagiarism. Now, the system’s not perfect- ChatGPT, there will be some errors in it, but it learns and other systems like it, they learn and they get more sophisticated. We’re not going to stop it (AI) – it’s out there. Kids already know how to use it better than the adults, which is typical for any technology, most technologies. So how do we adjust so that we’re still delivering a quality education knowing that these components are out there? If somebody wanted to cheat on an exam or cheat on assignment, there’s other ways to do it, not just ChatGPT, but it’s taken it to a much more sophisticated level.”

AI can be found in a variety of places in everyday life. Think of Siri, Alexa, robots, and driverless cars.

“We’ve seen a lot of discussion all the way up to the top of the federal policy leaders about AI. There seems to be an agreement that we need, as a country and as really beyond the country, as a world, but certainly as a country, we need to do a better job of creating policies to get a handle on what this new form of AI can and will do to our society. This isn’t something that only impacts education or only impacts the field of journalism, or you know, fill in the blank, it impacts all of us. And so we need our leaders to continue to have those conversations, and to step forward, and help provide some policies, some protections. This technology, while it’s exciting, and creates many opportunities, and we need to encourage the opportunity side, but we need protection, as much as possible, from the dangers that come with it. I think about the medical profession and what it could do to enhance what it’s already doing well, but what it’ll continue to do in an expedited way to help us address some of our fears, maybe it’ll help expedite a cure for cancer,” she said.

As for whether there’s concern about AI replacing teachers? Randol said she’s not concerned.

“What we learned, especially through the COVID years, is that virtual education does not cut it for a lot of our kids. And so, you know, I think that it’s clear that most of our children need that face-to-face instruction. And, you know, there’s other psychological impacts that come into play when we have the virtual setting,” said Randol.

Another positive to AI is that it can help teachers customize curriculum for each student, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.

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