B.C. researching impacts of AI tools in the classroom

This upcoming school year will be the first full one in which artificial intelligence (AI) platforms like ChatGPT are operational.

The chatbot was first launched by the company Open AI in November 2022. The program generates conversational text based on prompts inputted by the user.

Since its release, technology has drawn concerns in the school community over academic integrity, as the tool is able to generate entire essays when prompted.

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It’s something the B.C. government says it is looking into. Minister of Education and Childcare Rachna Singh says the development of AI technology presents “challenges and opportunities for the education system.”

“The Ministry is continuing to research AI and how best to support schools and teachers as they navigate this topic. B.C. has been engaging with other jurisdictions regarding AI and its potential impacts on K-12 education, as part of the OECD’s High Performing Systems for Tomorrow initiative,” the minister stated in an email to CityNews.

“As we move forward, we will continue to look for ways to advance our curriculum and prepare students to be successful in the future.”

Currently, the B.C. school curriculum mentions AI in just one elective Grade 12 technology course. Until the burgeoning technology is seen more frequently in school curriculums, one expert says it’s a good idea to get conversations started in classrooms around the new tool.

Students are using AI ‘whether we like it or not’: expert

Ron Darvin, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Language and Literacy Education, says classrooms will have a decision to make this year when it comes to discussing AI.

“Whether we like it or not, students are accessing these tools. So the question I think that schools really have to ask is ‘to what extent will we acknowledge the fact that students are using these tools?'” he told CityNews.

Darvin says classrooms of all ages should be discussing the technology and its potential impacts — not just the age groups that could use it to help their school work.

“I think there’s a lot more monitoring that has to happen when it comes to younger kids using it,” he explained.

“We’re able to explain to older students how these tools work and the limitations of these tools, for them to really understand how they can evaluate the kind of information that they’re getting.”

Ron Darvin, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia's Department of Language and Literacy Education.

Ron Darvin, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Language and Literacy Education. (CityNews Image)

A full ban on AI tools in the classrooms, Darvin says, would not be an effective move.

“Wealthier students who have access to their phones, who have access to data and home connectivity will still be able to use these tools,” he said.

“Rather than to shield students from it, we need to make sure that they’re equipped with the digital literacy needed to use it strategically and responsibly, understanding its benefits and limitations.”

Darvin suggests teachers use ChatGPT and similar services in front of their classes and work to identify the differences in the tool’s writing compared to a human’s.

“Take a look at the structure of the answers. What’s wrong with the answers, and how can they be improved? Then, it becomes kind of an open conversation about what purpose these technologies serve,” he said.

“Making sure that students understand how these things work, where it’s scraping data from, for them to understand that they cannot just take it for what it is.”

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