Brian W. Stewart M.Ed. is the founder and president of BWS Education Consulting, Inc. and is a nationally recognized test preparation expert, having over 30,000 hours of direct instructional experience with a wide variety of learners from all over the world. He is the author of several best-selling Barron’s books on test preparation and is the author of Barron’s Digital SAT Study Guide Premium, 2024 (Barron’s Educational Series (August 1, 2023).
Talk to any high school humanities teacher about the upcoming year, and one concern dominates—how can I be sure my students are not using artificial intelligence to cheat or gain an unfair advantage over their classmates? This school year is the first one that will be fully accompanied by the widespread availability of ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence technologies. In the same way that the availability of the calculator transformed math instruction, generative AI has transformed humanities instruction—for example, producing a final product is not necessarily sufficient to demonstrate understanding of the intellectual process. How can high schools ensure that the potential benefits of AI are made available to their students while minimizing student temptation to use AI to avoid rigorous work?
1. Make AI expectations clear.
Colleges are at the forefront of giving schoolwide recommendations for the use of AI in the classroom. For example, Stanford University states, “Absent a clear statement from a course instructor, use of or consultation with generative AI shall be treated analogously to assistance from another person.” Perhaps more importantly, colleges often have robust honor codes that outline serious consequences for plagiarism, including everything from automatic course failure to possible dismissal from school. Many secondary schools are not as clear about their AI policy. Also, the consequences for cheating in high school are typically less severe than those in college—students may receive a zero on an assignment or a detention. Without guidance from teachers about the expectations and consequences of improper use of AI for assignment help, secondary school students may take the easy way out, leaving them unprepared for higher education.
2. Utilize adaptive testing.
Many teachers are responding to the possibility of AI-assisted cheating by shifting to in-class handwritten assessments. While this approach will undoubtedly curtail academic dishonesty, it requires that a large portion of class time be devoted to testing. Moreover, for schools with chronically absent students, finding time for students to make up in-class assignments can be especially challenging. Fortunately, the outlines of an AI-enabled assessment solution are coming together. In the coming months, millions of U.S. students will take the Digital PSAT and Digital SAT—these will be the first widespread national exposures to adaptive, computer-based assessments. The later sections of the Digital SAT and PSAT will adjust in difficulty based on student performance on the earlier sections, making the tests much shorter than the paper-based versions. Also, the tests can be administered on different days to different groups of students. If other academic assessments can be structured this way, the amount of time devoted to in-class exams will be minimized.
3. Use homework to target learning needs.
Most students in the United States had significant disruptions to their education because of the pandemic. As a result, public school students lost about half a year of math and a quarter of a year in reading. In order to turbocharge remediation of these learning gaps, homework should be tailored to students’ weak areas. Fortunately, artificial intelligence can be a tremendous aid when it comes to targeted instruction. Students with gaps in their reading fundamentals can try a personalized program like Lexia Learning. World language instruction can be significantly bolstered with programs like DuoLingo that use AI to customize the quizzes and pace of instruction based on a student’s needs. And an excellent free resource, Khanmigo, can be incorporated into classroom instruction to give helpful tutorials to students as they work through assignments. Given the increasing availability of AI-enhanced customized homework, student complaints about “busy work” should be a thing of the past.
4. Assess and reassess the pros and cons.
While we have had a few months of experience using ChatGPT, many other generative AI products will likely become widely available this coming year. As they emerge, students and teachers can work together to assess their strengths and weaknesses. For example, students looking to find out information about current events should be mindful that the data set used in ChatGPT only goes up to 2021. Also, the capacity of AI to create fundamentally novel explanations may be limited, as outlined in this piece. AI gives students the opportunity to experience the thrill of discovery—with their phones or tablets, they can test hypotheses to see how useful the technology is in providing helpful and accurate information. Doing this will help them see where AI can be a good tool and where it is more trouble than it is worth.
5. Show the real-world applications.
When given a new topic in school, students often ask, “When will we ever need to use this?” Learning both the capacities and limitations of artificial intelligence is relevant to nearly all professional fields. While sales professionals can use AI to enhance their customer relationship management, nothing beats developing a personal connection with a client. While doctors can use AI in the analysis of medical imaging, doctors are ultimately responsible for the diagnosis. While a therapist may use AI to provide ongoing support to patients, the therapist must be certain that patient confidentiality is respected. Students should learn that AI can be an incredible tool to minimize repetitive tasks, but not something that should replace human creativity and responsibility.
For teachers and students, proper use of artificial intelligence is not some distant science fiction. It’s the here and now. It’s reality. By taking the challenge head on, schools can make it more likely that this story has a happy ending.