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Here’s how the Utah State Board of Ed is thinking about AI in schools

First grade students at Valley Crest Elementary in West Valley City do a writing activity on laptops, Nov. 13, 2023.
Martha Harris
First grade students at Valley Crest Elementary in West Valley City do a writing activity on laptops, Nov. 13, 2023.

When ChatGPT came on the scene in November 2022, the new artificial intelligence quickly rattled the education community.

So, how should schools handle a tool that can write an essay in a matter of seconds?

Utah is the latest in a growing list of states to issue guidance on how to handle AI in the classroom.

“I don’t know if you can ever get ahead of AI, it’s just moving so fast. But I think the goal is not to fall too far behind,” said Utah State Board of Education member Joseph Kerry.

The board approved a set of recommendations at its May meeting that explains what AI is and gives relevant existing laws currently in place, like child privacy. It also has “guiding principles for AI use,” examples of responsible AI use as well as prohibited uses and special considerations. The initial framework is meant to help schools, but it is not mandatory.

Bree Dusseault is the principal and managing director at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research center at Arizona State University that has been tracking which states have offered guidance on the issue. At this time last year, Dusseault said no states had published recommendations. It’s now up to 13 states in addition to Utah. She said in other states the recommendations are also not binding.

The AI framework from the Utah State Board of Education comes ahead of what Dusseault calls a “really important school year.” That’s because it “presents a window of time where districts and schools can get ahead and be proactive in creating conditions to ensure equitable access to AI, improving literacy around AI, and making sure opportunities [with AI] are being considered and the risks are being mitigated.”

If schools wait to tackle the issue of AI, Dusseault said, “once you get on your back foot, it’s hard to get back onto your front foot.” After this school year, she predicts AI will start to happen in education and schools will end up reactive rather than proactive.

Wanting to stay on top of AI has been a common theme in the state board’s discussion about the framework. They speak about it as a living document that will change as technology advances. The topic of AI in education will be an item on each of the monthly meeting agendas moving forward. The board is also hiring an AI specialist.

Right now, Utah’s guidance emphasizes striking a balance.

It says, “Generative AI has potential benefits for education and risks that must be thoughtfully managed.” The framework says there shouldn’t be unrestricted access to AI in schools, but adds “an outright ban of AI impedes the development of essential future workforce.”

Dusseault said that openness to revision is something she’s seeing in a lot of the states setting up guidelines on AI.

“Framing up guidelines for AI is not as standard as usual policy setting, not that these are policies,” Dusseault said.

With how fast the technology is evolving and how it will impact the future workforce, to her “that reality necessitates the need to go back and revise. And be careful about not taking too heavy a hand, or too light a hand in setting parameters to help [districts] and schools navigate this new space.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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