AI is here. Let’s teach students how to use it responsibly and effectively.

An edtech leader’s take on where we’re at and where we need to go. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Pat Yongpradit

AI is already in schools. Many teachers and students use it every day, often without guidance on why or when to use it properly. But our goal should not be getting AI into the classroom; it should be ensuring that all students have access to the benefits of AI in education. Every student and educator deserves the opportunity to learn about AI, understand its risks, and explore the power it has to enhance human capabilities like cognition, creativity, and interaction.

‘Every student and educator deserves the opportunity to learn about AI, understand its risks, and explore the power it has to enhance human capabilities…’

There are many positive use cases for AI in education: virtual teaching assistants, personalized learning pathways, and even AI-enabled facial identification technology to improve school security. And of course, there are many risks: stifled creativity with automation, interference with teacher and student agency, data privacy, and bias and misinformation in the AI tools themselves. 

Last year, as generative AI took the world by storm, organizations like AASA, ISTE, and ExcelinEd issued early guidance and toolkits to support school leaders as they introduced AI to their communities. Tech giants like Microsoft also released guidance on AI in education, and Amazon partnered with CoSN and CGCS to release a readiness checklist. In October 2023, the TeachAI initiative, led by Code.org, ETS, ISTE, Khan Academy, and the WEF, released a toolkit that many states and districts have already used to develop their own guidance on AI.

Now, it is time for policymakers and education leaders to adopt foundational policies to create the enabling conditions for effective use of AI in schools and to ensure a future generation of critical consumers and responsible creators of AI. 

Don’t Just Use AI, Understand and Learn AI

If you ask students and teachers, AI belongs in the classroom. More than 75% of students say they wish their school offered guidance on how to responsibly use generative AI for schoolwork and within school rules. Parents are open to AI too: more than two thirds of parents believe that the potential benefits of AI in K-12 education either outweigh or are equal to the potential drawbacks. 

Education leaders and policymakers have an obligation to keep up with the growing interest in learning about and using AI. Currently, there is a lack of guidance – in fact, a majority of teachers say that their school system does not have any clear policies on AI. A baseline understanding of AI and its applications in education, including its misuses, is quickly becoming a prerequisite for successful educational leadership. 

Realize the Benefits of AI through Effective Policy

As the role of AI in society, especially in schools and the workforce, evolves, we need to be proactive and ensure the effective and responsible use of AI in these environments by adopting foundational policies:

Foster Leadership: Create an AI in education task force to convene community members like educators, staff, administrators, and students with AI experts and policymakers to help shape the creation of legislation, regulation, and guidance.

Promote AI Literacy: States should integrate AI concepts and practices into existing curriculum and academic standards to prepare students to be informed consumers (and future creators) of technologies that utilize AI. 

Provide Guidance: Empower schools to harness AI’s potential benefits and mitigate risk through clear and practical AI guidelines. With the proper guidance, school leaders can use AI to improve student outcomes, promote equity in the classroom, and support teacher wellbeing.

Build Capacity: Dedicate funding for high-quality professional development so that staff are prepared to support students as they explore AI. To effectively teach AI, administrators and teachers must understand AI, including its limitations and ethical considerations.

Support Innovation: AI is constantly evolving, and it will be important for education leaders to understand how to responsibly introduce these new technologies into the classroom. Understanding safe and responsible AI use is essential, which means supporting the research and development of AI-informed curriculum, practices, and tools.

Many States are Already Paving the Way

As of April, nine states have already published AI guidance, with many of the 40 state education agencies following suit. States like Virginia and North Carolina have issued guidance advocating for AI literacy to be infused into all grade levels and curriculum areas with a critical focus on responsible AI use.

The challenges associated with AI in education are short-term and long-term. As more states work toward their own guidance, cross-state collaboration will be critical for convening school leaders, policymakers, and experts in the field to identify and respond to the constantly evolving challenges and opportunities of AI in education.

Pat Yongpradit is Chief Academic Officer at Code.org  For nearly 12 years, he worked in Montgomery County Public Schools as Curriculum Lead/Writer, Computer Science and Science Teacher, as well as New Teacher Induction Coordinator. Connect with Pat on LinkedIn.

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