Harmful or useful? Oregon schools grapple with Chat GPT as fall semester begins

With AI tools like Chat GPT, teachers are trying to figure out if the software is something K-12 education needs to embrace, or prevent students from using.
Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 8:54 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - With artificial intelligence (AI) tools like Chat GPT, teachers are trying to figure out if the software is something K-12 education needs to embrace, or prevent students from using.

The quickness and ease in which Chat GPT can provide information about virtually anything, and even compose entire essays in a matter of seconds, poses brand new challenges for education as a whole.

According to Open AI, the company that created Chat GPT, the tool was released in late 2022. With Chat GPT exploding in popularity over the last year, teachers and administrators are still evaluating the potential classroom impacts ahead of the 2023 school year.

For some local school district officials, the superintendent says the topic of artificial intelligence is front and center.

This web exclusive interview is part of a FOX 12 Investigates story on AI in classrooms.

“AI is probably one of the biggest issues outside of our yearly budgets, and relative to some of our other processes around state school funding,” said Tigard-Tualatin superintendent, Dr. Susan Rieke Smith.

Tigard-Tualatin’s technology director, Susan Bernard, has helped her district keep up with technological advances in education. But as of right now, there is not a clear strategy for addressing AI tools like Chat GPT.

“We had some interest from staff members playing around with it,” said Bernard. “I think it grew from there. We decided to pull together a committee of teachers and administrators and some technical perspectives and just explore what was out there.”

Bernard says all students in Tigard -Tualatin are issued a laptop or other device for school purposes. She says right now, Chat GPT is not blocked on Tigard-Tualatin’s network, but there could be restrictions placed on the accounts students use to login to their school emails and devices. But, students could create Chat GPT accounts using personal emails on personal devices. She says for now, it’s about having an open honest conversation with teachers and students.

“We try to steer versus block so, tomorrow it might be a different answer, but that’s where we are today,” she said. “I think part of what we need to do is keep our ears open to what’s changing in our eyes, open to watching, but need to not prevent kids or adults from accessing these resources as we learn about them.”

But one metro area English teacher is making it her mission to educate her students on Chat GPT’s potential impact in the classroom. Beth Lifson teaches juniors and seniors at Centennial High School in Gresham. She says Chat GPT has thrown her into an existential crises because of the potential impact AI could have on students’ writing skills. But rather than avoid the technology, she’s going to have students evaluate it on the very first day of school this year.

“We’re going to get into Chat GPT, and give it some prompts and see what comes up and do a little compare and contrast,” said Lifson. “My goal always is to get them (students) thinking in writing. So ultimately what they’re going to produce, is going to be an argumentative piece about AI and writing, where they’re going to have an argument on: Does there need to be a human touch in writing or not?”

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Lifson says as an English teacher, it is not hard to spot suspected plagiarism by a student who is using AI to write an essay because of the tone that’s used and lack of citations, but she stresses a clearer policy from school districts are needed so teachers know how to address issues with ai and academic integrity when they come up.

“Students are using it, but our school has been like ‘watch out of it.’ But they have not really addressed the deeper issue of how AI is going to change what we teach and how we teach what we teach.”

Lifson also stresses it is important she and other educators are on the same page as students when it comes to technology, because the disconnect can have consequences.

“My hope is that we all adapt, my prediction is that we don’t,” she said. “Students tend to be ahead of us in many ways, and I like changing with students, and the big wheels of bureaucracy don’t.”