Preparing educators for advantages, challenges of artificial intelligence in schools

April 15, 2024 at 7:00 a.m.
Freepik image
Freepik image

By EMMALEE ITALIA
Contributing Editor

The use of artificial intelligence in education is now a reality, offering both unprecedented advantages to embrace and serious challenges to confront.

Understanding and navigating through these complexities are critical needs, according to educational consultants and leaders in professional development.

Alex Urrea of Eduscape, a New Jersey-based educational and technological resource, writes, “AI is not the boogeyman, nor a threat to effective teacher practice. The opportunities to drive inquiry and enhance learning across all subject areas are limitless.”

Yet, he continues on eduscape.com, “We must ensure . . . that educational leaders recognize the value, remain current with best practices, provide effective professional development and implement policies that drive classroom adoption while protecting the student.”

Dr. Chandra Orrill, another Eduscape leader, writes, “AI is an algorithm, it’s not always the truth. We must double down on teaching students how to think critically and be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t real. In addition, the moral, ethical and legal implications are huge and should be addressed.”

Preparing for AI

Making such guidance available to those who lead and teach in the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Trenton was the aim when Urrea spoke to a Feb. 23 gathering of some 50 local educators. 

School principals gather in the Chancery Feb. 23 for an Eduscape presentation to learn how best to implement AI in their schools safely. Courtesy photo

“School leaders and administrators have been forced to react and respond to the benefits and challenges that come with AI technology with incredible speed,” said Bonnie Milecki of the Diocese’s Department of Catholic Schools. “Students know about it and are using it. We need all the grown-ups to catch up to the kids!”

Milecki, assistant superintendent for school development and operations, continued, “The truth is, AI is going to revolutionize education. You can’t pick up an education journal or attend an education conference in the last 12 months without this topic being at the forefront of the conversation. It is a game changer. We must make sure our school leaders know how to leverage it and how to regulate it.”

Some AI challenges have already surfaced in local Catholic schools, according to Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, diocesan superintendent. He explained that principals have raised concerns over verifying authentic work by their students that truly reflects learning on their part, and being able to recognize AI-generated content. They voiced the need for policies to be in place to assure that when AI is used, it is properly attributed, Dr. Schmidt noted.

On the positive side, school leaders also want to learn more about how AI can be used to augment the learning of students who have particular learning needs to help level the playing field for their success.

Urrea has written on the value of hosting such conferences on this subject.  He said, “AI has few obstacles to hinder the use of tools such as ChatGPT in school and/or at home. Therefore, we need district and school leaders to lead their stakeholders through timely planning and thoughtful implementation strategies.” 

Relevance of Faith 

Milecki also believes that there are powerful connections to the Catholic faith being seen through a new lens, thanks to AI.

Questions that will focus on Catholic respect for human dignity will emerge, she said. “We are going to have the opportunity to teach students to ask incredibly powerful questions about what it means to be human, to have free will, to be able to think critically, versus what it means to use tools that aren’t human. This makes our faith relevant in a new context.”

In his message for the commemoration of the 2024 World Day of Peace Jan. 1, Pope Francis emphasized that “artificial intelligence ought to serve our best human potential and our highest aspirations, not compete with them.” Its impact, he continued, “depends not only on its technical design, but also on the aims and interests of its owners and developers, and on the situations in which it will be employed.”

Attaching a values-based approach to the use of AI, the Pope said, is critical to achieving positive outcomes, and “will only be achieved if we show ourselves capable of acting responsibly and respect such fundamental human values as ‘inclusion, transparency, security, equity, privacy and reliability.’”

Real-life Experiences

“This conference was a very important step in quashing some fears and hearing the concerns the DCS has been receiving regarding the fast tracking that AI seems to be getting nationally,” Dr. Schmidt said.

“The gut reaction initially is fear – people naturally wonder if this will lead to loss of critical thinking skills by students who will be tempted to use it unethically,” Milecki said. “But we also see unbelievable advantages to teachers who can use AI to augment their lessons, custom tailor their instruction to specific needs, and even to support students to get further in their skills and learning. It does have huge advantages.”

Diocesan schools are already embracing the responsible use of AI, as exemplified by St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel.

“[We] spent the beginning of the academic year training our faculty and staff on the ethical use and best practices of incorporating AI into classroom activities, and teachers are using it to enhance their lesson planning,” said Margaret Kane, school principal. Some of our teachers are directing students on how to use it to improve their writing and build their vocabulary. Another teacher is teaching students how to write effective prompts and questions. It helps the students develop further critical thinking skills.

“Artificial Intelligence is not going anywhere,” she continued, “and Catholic schools need to be educational leaders in equipping our students with the skills and the tools needed to harness and utilize AI in their daily lives in productive and ethical ways.”

Dr. Schmidt said of AI experience in the Diocese, “We are at the cutting edge in embracing its potential while being true to our mission and protecting the children in its use.”

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.


Related Stories

The use of artificial intelligence in education is now a reality, offering both unprecedented advantages to embrace and serious challenges to confront.

Understanding and navigating through these complexities are critical needs, according to educational consultants and leaders in professional development.

Alex Urrea of Eduscape, a New Jersey-based educational and technological resource, writes, “AI is not the boogeyman, nor a threat to effective teacher practice. The opportunities to drive inquiry and enhance learning across all subject areas are limitless.”

Yet, he continues on eduscape.com, “We must ensure . . . that educational leaders recognize the value, remain current with best practices, provide effective professional development and implement policies that drive classroom adoption while protecting the student.”

Dr. Chandra Orrill, another Eduscape leader, writes, “AI is an algorithm, it’s not always the truth. We must double down on teaching students how to think critically and be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t real. In addition, the moral, ethical and legal implications are huge and should be addressed.”

Preparing for AI

Making such guidance available to those who lead and teach in the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Trenton was the aim when Urrea spoke to a Feb. 23 gathering of some 50 local educators. 

School principals gather in the Chancery Feb. 23 for an Eduscape presentation to learn how best to implement AI in their schools safely. Courtesy photo

“School leaders and administrators have been forced to react and respond to the benefits and challenges that come with AI technology with incredible speed,” said Bonnie Milecki of the Diocese’s Department of Catholic Schools. “Students know about it and are using it. We need all the grown-ups to catch up to the kids!”

Milecki, assistant superintendent for school development and operations, continued, “The truth is, AI is going to revolutionize education. You can’t pick up an education journal or attend an education conference in the last 12 months without this topic being at the forefront of the conversation. It is a game changer. We must make sure our school leaders know how to leverage it and how to regulate it.”

Some AI challenges have already surfaced in local Catholic schools, according to Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, diocesan superintendent. He explained that principals have raised concerns over verifying authentic work by their students that truly reflects learning on their part, and being able to recognize AI-generated content. They voiced the need for policies to be in place to assure that when AI is used, it is properly attributed, Dr. Schmidt noted.

On the positive side, school leaders also want to learn more about how AI can be used to augment the learning of students who have particular learning needs to help level the playing field for their success.

Urrea has written on the value of hosting such conferences on this subject.  He said, “AI has few obstacles to hinder the use of tools such as ChatGPT in school and/or at home. Therefore, we need district and school leaders to lead their stakeholders through timely planning and thoughtful implementation strategies.” 

Relevance of Faith 

Milecki also believes that there are powerful connections to the Catholic faith being seen through a new lens, thanks to AI.

Questions that will focus on Catholic respect for human dignity will emerge, she said. “We are going to have the opportunity to teach students to ask incredibly powerful questions about what it means to be human, to have free will, to be able to think critically, versus what it means to use tools that aren’t human. This makes our faith relevant in a new context.”

In his message for the commemoration of the 2024 World Day of Peace Jan. 1, Pope Francis emphasized that “artificial intelligence ought to serve our best human potential and our highest aspirations, not compete with them.” Its impact, he continued, “depends not only on its technical design, but also on the aims and interests of its owners and developers, and on the situations in which it will be employed.”

Attaching a values-based approach to the use of AI, the Pope said, is critical to achieving positive outcomes, and “will only be achieved if we show ourselves capable of acting responsibly and respect such fundamental human values as ‘inclusion, transparency, security, equity, privacy and reliability.’”

Real-life Experiences

“This conference was a very important step in quashing some fears and hearing the concerns the DCS has been receiving regarding the fast tracking that AI seems to be getting nationally,” Dr. Schmidt said.

“The gut reaction initially is fear – people naturally wonder if this will lead to loss of critical thinking skills by students who will be tempted to use it unethically,” Milecki said. “But we also see unbelievable advantages to teachers who can use AI to augment their lessons, custom tailor their instruction to specific needs, and even to support students to get further in their skills and learning. It does have huge advantages.”

Diocesan schools are already embracing the responsible use of AI, as exemplified by St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel.

“[We] spent the beginning of the academic year training our faculty and staff on the ethical use and best practices of incorporating AI into classroom activities, and teachers are using it to enhance their lesson planning,” said Margaret Kane, school principal. Some of our teachers are directing students on how to use it to improve their writing and build their vocabulary. Another teacher is teaching students how to write effective prompts and questions. It helps the students develop further critical thinking skills.

“Artificial Intelligence is not going anywhere,” she continued, “and Catholic schools need to be educational leaders in equipping our students with the skills and the tools needed to harness and utilize AI in their daily lives in productive and ethical ways.”

Dr. Schmidt said of AI experience in the Diocese, “We are at the cutting edge in embracing its potential while being true to our mission and protecting the children in its use.”

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.

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