3 Ways for Students to Use AI Ethically in the Classroom

We’ve spent some time exploring how teachers can use AI to lessen their workload, and how AI must change the way we view learning. But how can students use these tools to improve learning (not cheating) outcomes? I’ve got 3 ways for students to use AI Ethically in the classroom.

We’ve spent some time exploring how teachers can use AI to lessen their workload, and how AI must change the way we view learning. But how can students use this powerful tool to improve learning (not cheating) outcomes? I’ve got 3 ways for students to use AI Ethically in the classroom.

Hear me out. Our kiddos love to cut corners (who doesn’t?), but I want to show you how allowing AI in the classroom is a golden opportunity for us all.

From the start of the social media revolution, schools banned, blocked, and ignored it. Let us take a moment to ponder how that worked out for us.

Trolling, fake news, cyber bullying, irredeemable digital footprints, isolation, depression…

Not that schools could have solved all of these problems (not by a long shot), but we did have an opportunity to have conversations, address issues, and instruct in ethical use. It took us years to begin to do that.

Let’s not make the same mistake with AI. We can’t solve every problem, and as our school’s technology specialist says, “Cheaters gonna cheat,” but we do have a golden opportunity here to teach our students ethical uses of this powerful tool. For more on this, check out this article in Slate.

I’m no Pollyanna, and I’m painfully aware of the destructive potential of AI, but I do see a silver lining to this storm cloud. Used ethically, AI can be a force of equity in education.

Knowing how to use AI as an assistive tool will enable our students to be competitive in the emerging job market. It also has the potential to provide educational assistance to further learning.

So, here are 3 ways for students to use AI ethically in the classroom:

AI as a Personal Tutor

All three ways to use AI ethically that I’m going to discuss today involve AI acting like a personal tutor.

Used in this capacity, AI can truly be a force of equity in the classroom. Years ago, my ubiquitous teacher’s second job was private tutoring. I worked for a company that would send me to students’ homes to tutor for the SAT, ACT, and various AP history courses. These homes were always located in the most high-achieving school district and were firmly out of my price range.

In all the time I did that, I didn’t have a single student who didn’t show significant improvement. Struggling AP students would turn around and earn a four or a five on the AP Exam. SAT takers would increase their scores by 100 points at a minimum and ACT takers comparably so.

This wasn’t because of my exceptional teaching skills.

Overall, my own students, the ones in my packed classes of 33 students at my Title 1 school, showed no similar improvements.

Personal tutoring provides students with the individual, targeted attention so many need to achieve. But it’s expensive. That makes it out of reach for too many students.

Enter AI.

I’ve been teaching my students how to use AI as their own personal tutor with promising outcomes. Here are three ways to do this.

1. AI as a Reading Tutor

Student reading will not improve without exposure to higher-level material. If we’re constantly leveling texts for our students, we’re enabling understanding of that particular material, but we’re not providing opportunities for growth as readers.

If we teach students how to use IA as a personal tutor, we’re exposing them to more complex material while empowering them toward becoming independent learners.

Here’s an example of how I’ve implemented this approach:

I assigned students a portion of Ibn Battuta’s Travels in Africa 1325-1354. They had some background knowledge of Ibn Battuta and medieval Islamic society.

  • They read the passage though once.
  • They discussed with a small group what they got out of the passage and then we discussed impressions as a class.
  • We listed points of confusion on the boards and used those to generate prompts in Google’s AI chat bot, Bard. Our major point of confusion was understanding key points of the passage.
  • Our prompt was: “Please summarize the key points of this primary source for me.” This is what Bard came up with:
This is Bard's summary of Ibn Battuta's Life at Walata. One way to teach students to use AI Ethically is as a reading tutor.

The next step was to use gradual release of responsibility to teach students how to do this on their own. They would repeat the process with a different section from the reading in their small groups. Finally, they would attempt a third section on their own.

2. AI as a Writing Tutor

AI has made the process of writing so much more important than the final product. I discussed why here. We need to teach students how to best use AI as part of that process.

I’ll use one example that happened a few weeks ago. Students were working on a Long Essay Question (LEQ) in their AP US History class. I had a small group that came to my after school tutoring session for help. They were my students from last year, and I didn’t want to turn them away, but I was busy working with my own AP World History students.

I decided to help them by teaching them to help themselves by using AI. (That’s a mouthful.)

Here’s what they did.

  • They used the AP rubric to decide the specific parts they needed for a thesis statement. They decided on clarity, accuracy, and historical defensibility.
  • They used the prompt to come up with their own thesis statements. They wrote them down on notebook paper.
  • After showing me their thesis statements, they typed them into Bard with a prompt they came up with: “That is my Thesis statement for AP US History. The prompt it addresses is: Evaluate the extent to which Jackson era reform movements expanded democratic ideals. Please evaluate my thesis statement for clarity, accuracy, and historical defensibility.”
  • One of the students received positive feedback, but there’s always room for improvement, so she asked a follow-up question: “What specific suggestions do you have for improving my thesis statement?”
This is Bard's feedback on an APUSH student thesis statement. One way to teach students to use AI Ethically is as a writing tutor.

The suggestions were helpful. What’s more, this process encouraged students to break down the elements of their thesis statement and to really understand what a solid one entails.

3. AI as a Content Tutor

If there’s content from a particular class that students just don’t understand, AI can help with that. I’m going to jump out of my comfort zone and use science as an example.

You may have gathered that I get wanderers who aren’t in one of my classes in my after school tutoring sessions. One day, one of my former students came in to work on science homework. She was struggling with titrations and I could in no way help her.

We turned to Bard and entered the prompt, “Please provide a tutorial for titrations in simple terms that includes images and videos.” We then tried this prompt in ChatGPT: “Please explain titrations in simple terms that a 5th grader could understand.” Here’s what it came up with:

This is Chat GPT's explanation of titrations. One way to teach students to use AI Ethically is as a content tutor.

I’m still lost on titrations, but the student left with a much better understanding of them.

This left me thinking that I’d be remiss not to show students how to use AI as a content tutor in my own classes, so the next day, we returned to our good friend Ibn Battuta. We brainstormed what we knew about the historical context of the section “Life at Walata” from the same reading we were using earlier.

We listed what we knew on the board. Then we returned to the same chat in Bard that we had used for the reading the other day. We entered this prompt: “Can you provide historical context for this selection?” This is what we got:

This is Bard's explanation of the historical context of Life at Walata. One way to teach students to use AI Ethically is as a content tutor.

We compared Bard’s list to ours and used it to fill in gaps in our knowledge.

AI is an exciting, scary phenomenon, and it’s not going anywhere. It has the potential to make education more equitable by providing students with the personalized assistance they need. In order to use AI in this way–ethically as a learning tool–we must teach students how to do it.

Students will use it either way. Left to their own devices, students can just as easily abuse AI. Explicitly teaching students how to ethically use AI clarifies our expectations and gives our students the tools to meet them.

What are some ways you’re teaching students to use AI as a learning tool? I’d love to hear from you!

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