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Teaching with tech

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Mary Stroka, NLJ Reporter

Trustees deal with AI in local schools

Weston County School District No. 1’s technology director, Beau Gregory, said in a phone interview on June 23 that a couple of science teachers wanted students to gain exposure to AI last fall. Gregory urged caution at the time, and said he wanted to wait to see how the federal government, Wyoming and the Wyoming Department of Education responded to AI.

“I definitely was not going to be the one jumping on the grenade,” Gregory said.

But interest in having high school students gain exposure to AI persisted, and a policy regarding the use of artificial intelligence, or AI, is among the four technology policies that the Weston County School District No. 1 board is reviewing at present.

Even though the state’s education department has only recently drafted a policy, the district is already considering approval of its own policy because students are frequently using AI and that use will continue, according to Gregory.

“With it being as popular as what it is, we need to at least have something in the handbook that says we recognize this is a thing and this is kind of how we’re going to govern it,” Gregory said.

The district based the policy the board is considering off of the state’s draft, with the understanding that it does not interfere with current academic standards.

Students must respect their teachers’ guidance on the use of AI, Gregory said, noting that the district has programs that will show teachers how much of a student’s work was generated from AI.

The policy also addresses how the use of AI must align with the district’s existing internet use policy, which describes the district’s responsibility to protect students and follow industry best practices. It also spells out how any misuse will be handled.

Gregory said he met with Newcastle High School Principal Bryce Hoffman and Newcastle Middle School Principal Tyler Bartlett to formulate the policy, and if it passes through three readings from the board, it will be added to the handbook.

Gregory sees benefits in AI for quickly producing written materials, and compared using it to seeking information via
a search engine. He admits that he doesn’t like that people
can “probably just copy and paste” information that the AI produces from the most popular source, which it assumes is real, but the longtime technology educator believes AI can provide a good starting point and an outline for students.

“I think it’s good to expose kids to it,” he said.

Nevertheless, he understands that AI may be problematic for children who are still learning how to learn and how to problem-solve.

“I don’t like the idea of it being a crutch,” he reasoned.

Gregory was also concerned about the terms and agreements with AI, including age restrictions and the use of personal data. The district doesn’t want to use AI that stores data and sells it.

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s popular AI chatbot, was initially restricted to adults, but there are now a few AI services specifically for use in education, and those services are more secure and more geared toward kindergarten through 12th grade users, according to Gregory.

“That’s kind of where we’re leaning as a district,” he said.

The district is also reviewing a policy regarding least-privileged accounts and administrative privileges and another policy pertaining to risk assessment.

According to Gregory, the directives in these policies have always been practiced in the district, but the state education department wanted the school district’s procedures to be formalized through written policies. After the department conducted a technology audit, which involved reviewing the controls and procedures that district officials use, it asked the district to craft the policies.

“The state needed to see that that’s how we do it, essentially,” Gregory said. “Their interest is protecting the district, essentially.”

Teachers have more technology rights (privileges) compared with those afforded students, and Gregory has more rights than teachers regarding technology use, according to the accounts and privileges policy, he said. Yet another district account has more privileges than Gregory’s individual account has.

“It’s just the checks-and-balances thing, but we’ve never had a policy saying that we do it,” Gregory said.

He said that the administration’s biggest responsibility is to protect the students, staff, and district, and formalizing the policies allows people to be familiar with those efforts.

The fourth policy is a service lease agreement for third-party service providers. By signing the service lease agreement, providers formally agree to adhere to the industry’s best standards when they perform work for the district. They agree to protect students and information and the document reduces the district’s liability in case of a security breach from a third-party company. Previously, the district included these measures in its contracts with companies, but with the creation of this policy, it will be a separate document.

Each policy must pass through three readings before the board of trustees.

At the June 12 board meeting, the board passed each policy on its first reading, according to Superintendent Brad LaCroix, who noted at the meeting that the district is working with legal counsel on the wording and coding and that the district would probably need to reserve the right to make changes to the policies, especially the one regarding AI. Other entities, such as the state education department or the school boards association, may propose further changes.

Artificial Intelligence Policy

The policy, with the legal changes, reads:

“With the growing popularity and use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools, and with the potential risks they pose to academic integrity, WCSD#1 students are urged to exercise extreme caution when considering AI tools for academic tasks. While AI tools may offer potential benefits and opportunities, they also raise significant concerns about the potential for academic dishonesty and plagiarism. Students will refrain from relying solely on AI-generated content. Students may be permitted to utilize AI-generated content only if done with explicit permission and direct guidance from teachers. Honesty and academic integrity are critical, and students are encouraged to prioritize originality and authentic learning during their time at WCSD#1.

Teachers will provide specific guidance about when, where, and how AI tools may be appropriately used at WCSD#1. Without clear and explicit approval and direction from staff, AI options are to be considered off limits. WCSD#1 is committed to maintaining a respectful and safe environment. The use of AI tools to harass or intimidate peers, staff, and/or WCSD#1 personnel is explicitly prohibited. All AI-Generated content must conform to content provisions of Board Policy IJNDC/GBEDB. Any violations of this policy will be treated like a violation of Board Policies involving academic integrity, disrespect, intimidation, and/or harassment.”

This policy may still change, according to Gregory.

The IJNDC/GBEDB policy is the district’s internet acceptable use and safety policy for its electronic communications system, which includes emails and distance learning.

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