Williamsburg-James City County Schools is looking at increasing the use of generative artificial intelligence in the classroom.

Kristin Barr, the school division’s supervisor of instructional technology, innovation and information literacy, told the school board recently that the Virginia Department of Education has indicated that AI should be implemented across all subject areas, not just computer science courses.

Generative AI is “an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that creates new text, images, audio, video and code based on information that it has been pre-trained on,” Barr said at the school board’s April 9 work session.

In 2022, Open AI made its generative AI engine, Chat GPT, open to the public. That jump started public knowledge of AI, and it has been incorporated into various search engines and social media platforms since.

The school system is encouraging the use of AI, starting with teachers, Barr said. There are applications to enrich education, she said, but there are also risks and challenges to consider.

She said the school system is ready to support teachers in implementing AI in the classroom through continued education, co-teaching of lessons and collaboration. The school district is also prepared with advice regarding ethics of using AI in the classroom.

Ensuring the responsible use of AI will require effort from teachers, students and parents.

“A focus has been made to research the emerging technology and ongoing changes, coach staff members who have shown an interest in the tool, and provide learning opportunities to all staff members,” Barr said.

School board member Kimberley Hundley asked how teachers can know whether students are using AI. Because there is potential for student misuse, the school system recommends teachers get to know their students and their writing styles, so they can tell if an assignment is written in an unusual way, Barr said.

The school system also encourages transparency in using AI. For example, teachers who put together a presentation using AI should tell students how they used AI in making the presentation to model proper use of the technology.

There’s also the risk that students use AI to do their work for them, and on that topic, Barr said cheating is cheating — if students are passing off work they did not create as their own, that’s not an action of integrity.

Superintendent Olwen Herron said AI is here and it’s time to embrace it.

“I think getting out ahead and having structures in place is very important at this point in time,” she said while thanking Barr, her staff and technology integration specialists for “creating an environment where teachers can learn to use it and teach students how to use it productively and for the right reasons.”

Sam Schaffer, [email protected] 

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