'Accept it, leverage it'; Washington grapples with future of AI in the classroom

Tech experts predict that artificial intelligence (AI) will only become more common and widespread in our society as time goes on.

Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal says students will probably go faster than the school system when it comes to AI—so our state better be ready to keep up.

The technology has the potential to transform life as we know it, and tech experts are hopeful that it would lead to more effective learning in the classroom.

"You actually can help these kids much better, to actually learn and be more productive," said Olufemi Shonubi, co-founder of EduTech.

His company's goal is to provide quality education across the globe. Shonubi says AI is the future, offering personalized lesson plans for students and automatic grading for teachers.

"Accept it, leverage it, use it to make yourself more effective," said Shonubi.

While AI could be a huge benefit in schools, it comes with a lot of challenges, including concerns about cheating with certain programs.

"Our job is to go as quickly as we can to put a framework in place, so that it’s a positive tool and not something that people perceive as just something to cheat with, right?" said Reykdal.

Reykdal says there isn’t a central policy on cheating in our state—rather, state law places the responsibility for assessing student learning on the district and classroom teachers.

"The teacher at the classroom level really has to figure out how they're gonna use this tool," explained Reykdal.

Everett Public Schools is using a program called Turnitin, which uses AI to scan for plagiarism by distinguishing between AI- and human-written text.

"When a student doesn't write their own work, of course, they're not learning," said Stephen Kernaghan, owner of Write Seattle.

Tutors and teachers we interviewed are optimistic about AI, but say educators need to get creative with assignments to ensure students are learning, even incorporating AI into homework.

"I had students use different AI image generators and the assignment [is to] come up with something beautiful and something ugly using the generator," explained Roosevelt High School teacher Edmund Trangen.

Some people are concerned about privacy and security on platforms that use AI.

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Our state superintendent says it’s going to require the Legislature and ultimately Congress to build a policy framework around that. He says it’s important to teach students to be discerning, as well.

"We can teach students how to evaluate that and assess that and say, 'Okay, let me be cautious about what's coming out of these algorithms,'" said Reykdal.

Some educators may worry that AI could put them out of a job, but Reykdal and other tech experts emphasize that human teachers are still critical.

"Teachers will always be needed, we will need more counselors, we will need more support staff," said Reykdal, "that isn’t going to change, it’s how we do it."

Reykdal says our state needs funding from the Legislature to train teachers on AI, what it does and how it works.

"They need more time with this stuff to build that confidence, because as they do, it gets in the classroom that much faster and effectively," said Reykdal.

RELATED: US colleges want to 'ChatGPT-proof' all assignments to stop cheating

How school districts are preparing

FOX 13 News reached out to Seattle Public Schools and Everett Public Schools for comment on how they are preparing for the evolution of AI in the classroom.

Seattle Public Schools

The following was sent by Dr. Art Jarvis, Deputy Superintendent of Academics:

"Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is exploring the rising influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education. As we navigate the evolving landscape of education, we recognize AI as a potent tool that holds immense potential for public education.

"AI technology has the remarkable capability to address challenges related to language and reading levels swiftly, creating a more inclusive and equitable educational environment. This advancement in AI technology expands the possibilities for education beyond the confines of the traditional classroom setting.

"The tech levy and our rich tech partnerships afford us a chance for greater technological exploration. The recent global pandemic has reinforced the importance of a strong and adaptable tech infrastructure, enabling remote learning for our students and staff. We have learned valuable lessons from this experience and are determined to build a resilient educational environment.

"In a world where AI is increasingly integrated into daily life, we understand the significance of preparing our students to navigate this digital landscape responsibly. Education always has been at the forefront of supporting progress and guiding students in the responsible use of technology.

"Within the realm of AI, SPS is already actively engaged in conversations to formulate a comprehensive plan for integrating AI into our district's educational framework. It is essential that our plans for AI integration are as flexible as the technology itself, adapting to the evolving landscape of AI innovation.

"SPS remains committed to providing the best possible learning experiences for our students, leveraging the power of AI to create a brighter and more inclusive future for all."

Everett Public Schools

How is your district preparing for the rise of artificial intelligence in education?

"We started last year meeting with the Technology Advisory Council that is comprised of parents, community members, and staff to talk through strategies for how to prepare for AI in education. The advisory council had recommendations for how to provide staff with support and teaching strategies on including AI in lesson design and instruction."

What experience does your district have in AI so far? How much has it come up so far and how have you dealt with it?

"ChatGPT is currently open for staff to use and we have staff across the district who are modeling its use in their classroom. Some school leaders have also offered learning sessions on how AI can be used. The technology department is partnering with academics to provide teacher tools with how teachers can use this in instruction as well as appropriate use of AI."

"The concern from some teachers is that students, if it is open, will use it to cheat. We have added a feature to the plagiarism tool "Turn it in" that is intended to identify writing and assignments that are not written by the student. If students are simply having AI write a paper for them, then are they really learning anything? That is the challenge, to create learning in the classroom that promotes active learning and problem-solving and 21st century skills that are what will be needed by employers of our graduates."

Does your district have an official policy or stance on AI? If you don't have an official policy, can you share some initial thoughts?

"We do not have an official AI board policy. We are currently in the thinking of supporting our staff to be comfortable in its use and how to work alongside AI in supporting student achievement."

"Initially we looked at the internet as "cheating". Now we use it is a tool. We used to see using a calculator differently as you do now."

What do you foresee being the pros, cons and challenges of AI?

"Ideas for innovation. It can create efficiencies in the work place as well."

"Exciting new job opportunities will come up in the next few years as a result of AI."

"The negative is that some jobs will no longer be needed and AI will replace it."

Has your district done any training for teachers on dealing with AI? Is your school planning on using AI to improve teaching and learning? How will teachers deal with students using AI?

"Training is occurring at school sites but not something that is district coordinated. Based on interest and request and readiness of staff."

"It is in our plan to provide support for teachers on how to utilize AI in instruction."

"Students can’t access AI on their district device but we don’t control what they do with the personal devices. If students are caught using AI to plagiarize then the regular discipline consequence steps outlined in the Rights and Responsibilities."

Tacoma Public Schools

"At this time TPS does not have a formal policy regarding AI. We are working to understand how it impacts instruction and student learning now and in the future. As we continue to learn more we may implement formal policies to help guide the use of AI in TPS classrooms."