Administrators discuss strategies for harnessing AI

BOISE — Text-generating artificial intelligence is here to stay, which is why superintendents packed into “Idaho Education and AI: Questions and Considerations” seminar on Thursday afternoon, hoping to gain ideas on embracing the next step in digital technology.

Elizabeth Wargo, assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Idaho, reassured attendees that it’s okay to be afraid or to be enthralled by new tech. Either way, though, schools are going to have to learn its classroom application or risk being left behind, said the seminar host.

“We want to think about AI as a thought partner. The common theme is collective efficacy, working together to support student and staff excellence,” she said.

Idaho Digital Learning Alliance superintendent Jeff Simmons concurred.

“It’s a tool that’s going to change how we teach and learn. Therefore, we have to use this as a tool. We have to teach our teachers how to use it and teach what it does and doesn’t do well,” Simmons said.

Though Chat GPT was rolled out on a mass scale in only the last six months, its AI text-producing application has already had an impact on schools. This was why audience members at “AI: Questions and Considerations” wrapped along three walls and spilled out into the Boise Centre hallway.

The purpose of the presentation is to not only acknowledge AI as a teaching tool, but to make sure that students and schools do not fall behind, American Falls superintendent Randy Jensen said.

“We can use this to create greater equity,” Jensen said. “And if we don’t help the have-nots, that gap is going to widen; we need to get over the debate of can we use it or can we not.”

This is especially true in rural schools, Wargo said, where digital connectivity is not as ubiquitous and districts tend to lag behind the funding of urban peers.

“Idaho is one of the richest places to have education happening in the world,” Wargo said. “I hate deficits.”

This equity can apply in myriad ways, Jensen points out. Text-generating tech can help guide students on their college essay, for example, closing the gap of kids from more wealthy backgrounds whose parents are able to pay for seminars, private tutors, tutoring services, and more.

Jensen points out different ways that he has used Chat GPT — to write objectives and apply these towards a two-day leadership agenda, for example.

Educational leadership professor Juhee Kim at the University of Idaho discussed how the academic institution empowers its professors.

“There is no university policy. Using AI is up to faculty,” Kim said.

What guides AI application is the U of I’s Academic Honesty statement and guidelines for faculty. This is a strategy Simmons favors for public school.

“What we’re really good at in education is banning things,” Simmons said. “What we have to embrace is that if it’s a thing now, it will always be a thing. Kids going through school now have access to AI and will always have access to AI. Whether we like the thing or not, it will always be a thing.”

Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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