Schools put aside fear to harness artificial intelligence for good
30 April 2024

Schools are now less worried about their students cheating with AI and more interested in the technology’s potential to enhance student learning in new and exciting ways.

When ChatGPT was released in late November 2022, it sparked a mix of excitement and terror. For schools, the likelihood of students using the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot to cheat was high on the list of fears. There were also valid concerns it would make students less resilient if the natural struggle of learning was taken away. But almost 17 months later, the conversation has shifted to new terrain, with many educators recognising the transformative benefits of AI.

Westbourne Grammar School Principal Adrian Camm says while those initial fears had lingered for a long time in some schools, the dialogue had recently become more “elevated”. “We’re now talking about things that are more nuanced, more complicated,” he says. “How do we best use it to provide really great learning experiences [for] the young people in our care?”

Melbourne Girls Grammar School (MGGS) Principal Dr Toni Meath says the technology and awareness of AI has rapidly evolved since the release of ChatGPT. “It’s not going away, and we need to be aware of how it can be used, how we can harness it and also be aware of its limitations and the critical thinking around that,” she says.

The school doesn’t shy away from AI technology, Meath says. Instead, it encourages students to use technology such as ChatGPT as a potential first step– to help with the initial draft of a writing assignment, for example. “I’ve even known teachers to say, ‘OK, well, this is the essay question– what does AI think?’” she says. “That’s not the end point but it’s a starting point for thinking.”

While AI can be a great tool for fostering curiosity, Meath says the school maintains a heavy focus on encouraging students to enjoy the pleasure and rigour of learning without becoming too reliant on technology. So, while students might be able to pass by submitting an AI-generated assignment that can’t be detected, that’s certainly not the goal. “What we instil in our Grammarians is maintaining our capacity to think, to be critical thinkers, to be sceptical,” Meath says. “So, we learn how to learn.”

Back at Westbourne, some students are tinkering with creating their own technology, such as an AI assistant that has been embedded into the school’s learning management system. That assistant can answer student questions such as: “What time does period two finish?” or “Who teaches Year 8 science?” Camm says students are encouraged not to just passively consume technology, but create tomorrow’s technology, which means they must understand it from the inside out.

For its part, in December the federal government released a national framework designed to help school communities use generative AI safely and effectively. The framework, developed by the National AI Schools Taskforce, focuses on the privacy, security and safety of students. It says generative AI tools should only be used in ways that “respect and uphold privacy and data rights, comply with Australian law, and avoid the unnecessary collection, limit the retention, prevent further distribution, and prohibit the sale of student data”.

Launching the framework, Minister for Education Jason Clare said it would help guide all school communities to enjoy the potential benefits to teaching and learning what generative AI offers while mitigating the risks.

Camm believes AI will eventually augment human intelligence. “It’s possibly the biggest thing that’s going to happen in our lifetime,” he says, adding: “We’re moving into new terrain as a society. Things are just going to continue to accelerate, and we need to embrace it. And schools need to be at the forefront of this, because if schools aren’t talking to kids about it, who is?”


Source: Independent Schools Guide 2024 by Domain Magazines  

Published: 17 April 2024

Words by: Larissa Ham