While some teachers have embraced tools powered by artificial intelligence over the past year, others remain uncertain about its role in their classrooms.

Jade Pham recently learned that artificial intelligence isn’t the best at solving math problems with students.

Pham, a student services coordinator at Kawananakoa Middle School, said she instructed ChatGPT, an online AI tool, to show a student how to solve a word problem, only for the website to produce the wrong answer. 

But, Pham said, it’s an important learning opportunity for her students. AI can serve as a valuable resource, she added, but students need to use their critical thinking skills when trying new technology. 

“There’s always pros and cons to everything,” Pham said. “As an educator, you have the flexibility to choose what works best for your classroom.” 

As ChatGPT gained popularity among students over the past year, teachers have grappled with the role AI should play in learning.
ChatGPT has gained popularity among students over the past year, but teachers are still questioning the role AI should play in learning. (Megan Tagami/Civil Beat/2023)

Since ChatGPT emerged as one of the most prominent AI tools just over a year ago, Hawaii teachers have continually questioned what role the new technology should play in their classrooms. While a few states have issued official directives on AI use in schools, Hawaii’s Department of Education remains part of a large majority that has yet to offer finalized, comprehensive guidance. 

Developing policies and regulations around AI in schools is challenging, especially as the technology continues to quickly evolve, said Bree Dusseault, principal and managing director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

But, she added, when states delay conversations around AI in schools, they run the risk of students misusing the tool or losing out on valuable opportunities to learn more about the technology.

State Guidance Remains Lacking

Before this year, Cindy Reves knew how to catch plagiarized work. The McKinley High School teacher said she would take a phrase from an essay, enter it into a Google search and find the original work a student had claimed as their own.

Now, Reves said, it’s much harder to know if her students are submitting work that’s not their own. Software meant to identify AI-generated work has low accuracy rates, and Reeves said it’s difficult to make the distinction on her own. 

Reves is already thinking of classroom policies that would explain when it’s appropriate to use AI in her class. It’s a daunting task, Reves said, adding that she would benefit from DOE guidance on how to develop these regulations. 

I think AI is a really big change in education,” Reves said. “So big, that I’m a little scared to even dip my toe in.” 

Fred Lewis presents Ai to the Hawaii Education Association Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Honolulu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
The Hawaii Education Association offered workshops in December educating school leaders and teachers about AI and its possible role in schools. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

According to a recent CRPE study, only Oregon and California began the 2023-24 school year with official guidance addressing AI use in schools. The documents provide examples of how teachers can use AI in their classrooms and offer guidance on protecting student privacy and preventing plagiarism.

Beth Blumenstein, interim director of the well-rounded, integrated and digital learning team at the Oregon Department of Education, said the state issued its guidance in August with the hopes it would help districts develop their own AI-use policies in the new school year.  

Ayla Olson, an instructional coach at the InterMountain Education Service District in Oregon, said teachers have welcomed the state’s guidance so far. But, she added, while the guidance offers a basic introduction to AI, teachers could benefit from more detailed policies and examples explaining when it’s appropriate for students to use AI in schools.  

It’s just so new for everyone,” Olson said. “It’s almost like we’re playing catch up.”

At this time, the Hawaii DOE is referring schools to its technology acceptable use policies, as well as AI-related resources offered by the International Society for Technology in Education, said Winston Sakurai, curriculum innovation branch director of the office of curriculum and instructional design.

The DOE’s acceptable use policies don’t discuss AI at this time, but many of the guidelines relating to student privacy and plagiarism are still relevant, Sakurai added. 

Hawaii Education Association president Joan Lewis is photographed Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Honolulu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Hawaii Education Association president Joan Lewis said teachers would like to see more professional development and guidance helping them respond to AI-related cases of academic dishonesty. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

By early 2024, the department will offer online courses providing guidance on how teachers can incorporate AI into their lessons and create policies around AI-related plagiarism. The courses won’t be mandatory, Winston said, but he expects demand to be high after many schools requested this resource. 

Joan Lewis, president of the Hawaii Education Association and an instructional coach at Kapolei High School, said some teachers’ early exposure to AI involved students using ChatGPT to complete their homework. Now, she added, many are interested in receiving professional development teaching them how to introduce AI into their classrooms, while also developing assignments that are harder for students to complete using ChatGPT alone.

Mixed Feelings Remain

Mid-Pacific Institute began issuing policies around AI use in March, said Mark Hines, director of the school’s Kupu Hou Academy. 

The school requires that students to cite their use of AI tools, just as they would with any other academic source, Hines said. Since the start of the year, he said, the high school has seen approximately six incidents involving AI and academic dishonesty.

But, Hines added, teachers try to show students that AI should enhance their learning, rather than replacing their work altogether. 

“We weren’t going to ban this, but we were going to be very thoughtful about how we were going to make it available,” Hines said. 

DOE plans to issue similar guidelines requiring students to credit AI tools that supported their work, Sakurai said. He added that policies will vary from class to class, and it’s ultimately teachers’ choice if they want to prevent students from using AI in their assignments altogether.

The first day of McKinley High School's 2022 school year.
Some students and teachers at McKinley High School remain wary of the value of AI, especially when it comes to written assignments. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

But not all teachers – or students – are interested in using AI at this time. Malia Manuel, a junior at McKinley High School, said she hasn’t been tempted to use AI for her English assignments this year, adding that she believes she can produce quality work on her own.

Regardless of students and teachers’ feelings toward AI, schools will need to adopt the technology sooner than later, said Denise Dugan, an assistant professor of education at Chaminade University. Dugan shows aspiring educators how AI can help them develop lesson plans and challenges them to create assessments that can’t be completed through a simple conversation with ChatGPT.

“It’s here, because students are using it, and so we need to find a way to embrace it within our classrooms,” Dugan said.

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

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