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Jordan School District uses AI to help students learn, not cheat

Posted at 5:46 PM, Aug 16, 2023

WEST JORDAN, Utah — Artificial intelligence has become one of the biggest hot button topics in education across the United States, and it's no different in Utah.

The technology is so new, with it able to help students learn and grow, while also being used to plagiarize and ultimately hinder education. Like with anything else that's new and unexplored, there are numerous takes on how it should be used, including from one local school district that will implement AI this year.

Brooklyn Davis is an English teacher who has taught high school students across northern Utah. As a teacher in an impressionable time in a teen's education, she’s seen some take the wrong turns when using artificial intelligence.

"I caught a number of students and every single time I would get one sentence into their paragraph into their whole essay and immediately know that they did not write it," she explained.

For her department, all students will be submitting all the work they are doing in class on paper by hand. The main reason? To help the growth of a student.

"If they are using AI, we have no true way to know where our students are at," explained Davis. "I don't know if they are exceling. I don't know if they're falling behind.

Artificial intelligence is something the Granite School District has been adjusting to as of late.

"I think at our level, it just kind of hit us, 'Whoa, we're probably just going to need to navigate this while we get used to what we're dealing with here,'" said Noelle Converse, director of curriculum and instruction for the district.

Granite has most of AI blocked for their students, at least on campus, but is also looking to see how introducing it might work.

"In the end, we're going to figure out how to use it very productively," explained Converse. "We just need to get past some of these first hiccups."

Over in the Jordan School District, one official said they didn't even have AI on their radar at this time last year, not realizing it was going to be so big. The district is actually trying something new while partnering with a local start up to safely incorporate artificial intelligence into classrooms.

"The challenge with AI is that potentially you might have some students that want to let AI do the thinking for them. That's why a partner like School AI has been so nice for us," said Jared Covili, the district's administrator over digital learning.

School AI works with districts and schools to implement a custom set of AI tools. Over the summer. 100 teachers used the program in a trial and the district says the results were very promising.

"There's almost always 20-30 percent of teachers in a group that are going, 'I'm not sure about this.,'" said School AI founder Kevin Morrill. "They usually come out the other side going, 'Wow, this is amazing,' and then they usually just tell other teachers to start using it, too."

With the program, a teacher extends what they call spaces to students. The teacher starts the session and the students can open up the space on whatever device they have. If they want to help a student write an essay, the program won't write one for them, but will pretend to be a writing coach to support the process of writing the essay.

Students can use School AI as a tool, not as a way to cheat.

"When calculators came out, we thought if we let students use calculators, they're never going to understand math. When the internet came out, we thought they're never going to think again. They'll just go to Google and everything will be there for them," said Jordan School District superintendent Anthony Godfrey. "I'm hesitant myself. I want to be sure that when we embrace new technology, we do so in a way that's responsible and we think we found a way to do that." 

But the bottom line AI is a conversation that is going to continue and grow.

"I think every time there is a technological advancement that makes something easier, it means we get to move on to the next thing," said Godfrey.

Covili believes a tool like AI won't replace a teacher, but will make a good teacher better. But for teachers like Davis, she's on the side that AI can help, especially when it comes to writing, but that a student's work needs to be their own.

"Some concerns are valid," said Morrill. "Just saying [to] use AL in schools doesn’t amount to anything, there has to be custom specific things."

For now, districts will continue to navigate at the thousand foot level of the artificial intelligence issue.

"It’s an opportunity for us to expand what we do and get better at what we do," said Covili.

"It's just us becoming familiar enough with the tools to know how to use them in a smart and productive way," answered Converse.

AI is the issue that teachers are addressing one-on-one as schools head into the first full year of it being found in classrooms.

"I think it's going to be a battle and I think it's going to be something that teachers are going to grapple with for a good long while," Davis said. "But I think that ultimately, we know that we have to teach our students, we know that we need to see their work." 

The best piece of advice for parents is to learn about the technology and help your children navigate through it, while showing them that using AI to cheat might be easier than doing the work but in the long run it will be a disservice to their education.