Some of Canada’s largest school boards will begin the new school year without formal policies on the use of artificial intelligence in the cla*sroom, despite concerns about the technology’s impact on learning and academic integrity.
But even though there seems to be a broad consensus on the need for more guidance and vigilance on AI in schools, an education expert says blanket policies are unlikely to be effective anyway. help.
The Canadian Press asked 10 school boards from different parts of the country if they would implement a formal policy for the 2023-2024 school year covering the use of AI by teachers and students, such as capable chatbots. solve math problems or write essays.
Of the boards that responded to the survey, none had a formal AI-specific policy in place. Some said they would apply their existing codes of conduct to the use of AI in the cla*sroom, while others said they were consulting on how best to tackle this rapidly growing problem. .
The Toronto District School Board, the nation’s largest, said in a brief statement only that its staff would “examine the matter further” to determine if any changes were needed to the school board’s academic honesty rules.
Just west of Toronto, the Peel District School Board said it was “highly aware of the ethical implications and potential risks a*sociated with AI in education” and was taking a “proactive approach” to mitigate any risk.
“Through ongoing discussions and collaboration with department staff and consultants, the school board ensures that our implementation of artificial intelligence aligns with best practices, ethical considerations, and the unique needs of our diverse student population,” the school board said in a statement. “This work will inform school board policy on the use of AI in cla*srooms and any mitigations, if needed. »
The Calgary School Board said it has no formal policy on AI, but is working with schools to “build a common understanding of the legitimate uses and limitations of AI in education.” », emphasizing ethics. The school board said student expectations are already outlined in its student code of conduct and that teachers should “clearly identify” when AI use is not permitted in homework.
“As educators, we support the use of a*sistive tools to enhance learning, not replace it,” the council said in a statement.
The Winnipeg School Division also said it doesn’t have a formal policy, but its message to teachers is “there is a learning component to AI and they should ensure that the tool is used ethically and effectively in their cla*srooms”.
Meanwhile, the Saskatoon Public Schools Division said more research into the benefits and impacts of using AI is needed “before policy development can be explored.”
Lauren Bialystok, professor of social justice education at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said it’s no surprise school boards aren’t instituting policies formal on AI. Nor is she convinced that such policies would work.
“We need more refined and sensitive ways to understand what constitutes legitimate or illegitimate use of these tools,” she said in an interview.
“And a school board-wide policy or even a school-wide policy, in some cases even a department-wide policy, is bound to be too general or too specific for someone.”
Bialystok said it is a fact that AI tools such as ChatGPT, the chatbot that exploded in popularity upon its launch last fall, pose a threat to academic integrity, especially in post-secondary education. . But despite its pitfalls, AI also offers “educational potential” and there are proven ways for students and teachers to use it to improve learning, she noted.
“So something like, say, a ban is not only completely naive and impractical, but actually misses the multifaceted nature of these technologies. »
One of the main rationales for an AI policy would be to detect and minimize cheating, but coming up with a comprehensive set of rules for schools is “very difficult” for several reasons, she said.
For example, the risks and benefits vary by topic. “What may qualify for the use of AI in a science cla*s may not qualify in an English cla*s, or vice versa.”
She also pointed out that AI is constantly evolving, so it would be very difficult to keep up with it from a policy perspective.
Instructors across the country have told The Canadian Press in recent months that they’re using the tool for lesson planning, administrative tasks and even integrating it into some students’ homework.
But Bialystok said while many tech-savvy teachers are happy to experiment with AI in the cla*sroom, many also “don’t have the time or the means” to understand how to use it and monitor its use.
“Their profession, in a sense, changed overnight and they didn’t have enough support, respite or professional development anyway,” she said.
Sarah Eaton, an a*sociate professor at the University of Calgary and an expert in AI education, said school boards and ministries of education should consider professional development for teachers to better understand AI and how which students can use it.
Eaton said she worries about teachers “turning a blind eye to technology” in the cla*sroom.
“We can’t control or ban it, but we can help students learn to use it, in a supervised, thoughtful and meaningful way.”
© 2023 The Canadian Press