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Superintendent Panel Likens Dilemma of Figuring Out AI’s Proper Role to ‘Rebuilding the Kitchen’

An attendee at the Social Media Lounge's Friday session. Photo by Emercyn Randolph.

Can intelligent educators master artificial intelligence?

At the AASA national conference, a panel of superintendents insisted they’ll give this challenge the old college — make that the old elementary, middle and high school — try.

“AI won’t replace humans,” said Matthew Montgomery, moderator of the “Social Dilemma of AI” panel on Friday morning. “But humans with AI will replace humans without AI.”

The technology is new. ChatGPT, arguably the best-known AI program, was introduced less than two years ago. But educators insist this tool holds revolutionary promise.

“This is not like adding a microwave to the kitchen,” said Kirk Koennecke, CEO and superintendent of Cincinnati’s Indian Hill School District. “This is like rebuilding the kitchen.”

Schools across the country are experimenting with AI. Some report successful innovations:

  • Montgomery, superintendent of Lake Forest School Districts 67 and 115 in Illinois, didn’t have time to watch a 35-minute video from a parent. Instead, he used an AI program, Google Bard, to view and summarize the presentation.
  • Dan Cox, superintendent of the Rochester Community Unified School District 3A in Illinois, uses AI programs to speedily write and illustrate press releases.
  • Cox also uses AI for “stay interviews,” asking teachers what they like and don’t like about their jobs. The program “probes,” Cox said, asking for deeper reflections and whether the teacher would like to speak to a human about these issues.
  • In Connecticut, AI is being used to uncover answers to a vexing problem. “AI can support us,” said Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, “getting at the data and reasons for chronic absenteeism.”

There are, though, potential drawbacks.

Before implementing AI programs, A.K. Perera recommended, it’s essential to seek input from potential users of diverse racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

Otherwise, warned Perera, superintendent of the Lancaster Independent School District in Texas, schools run the risk of “digital exclusivity.”

Another danger: AI can be weaponized. Montgomery has been blasted with “deep fake” videos, misrepresenting his positions.

“I believe in hearing differing viewpoints, it’s the beauty of education,” he said, “but I have not seen this level of attack before.”

Yet even such unscrupulous assaults can be used for educational purposes, Koennecke said, teaching students about ethical use of AI.

Both the promises and perils are great, supervisors agreed, but it’s important that schools venture out into this technological frontier.

“We want our students and teachers to be exploring this,” Cox said.

(Peter Rowe is a reporter for Conference Daily Online and a freelance writer in San Diego. He wrote this story without the aid of AI.)

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