ChatGPT is barely six months old, but AI is already a buzzword in K-12 education.
It grabbed the attention of decision makers immediately, earning a ban from NYC schools in January of 2023, with other large districts following. Others are embracing the technology, with voices like Sal Khan encouraging educators to teach with AI.
As school leaders rush to take sides, it’s important to remember AI is unproven and unvetted, especially for school and district-level solutions. Instead, it’s critical for leaders to realize that most schools can greatly improve how they manage critical daily functions using existing, effective, and easy-to-implement technology.
While cheating was the immediate worry, there are deeper concerns about AI in schools.
For instance, how will it affect students’ abilities to do challenging tasks? A Google search replaced a trip to the library card catalog with a few keystrokes. However, students still needed to do something with the information. What happens when typing a few words into ChatGPT is enough to shortcut entire assignments?
Some educators have flocked to ChatGPT for creating content, providing feedback, writing emails, and more. However, these tools have biases based on training data and built-in parameters. They also “hallucinate,” i.e., output false information. Are educators prepared to evaluate the fairness and accuracy of content produced by AI?
Last is the ever-present issue of student data privacy. Even if a user deletes the prompts they put into ChatGPT, the data is saved, so there’s a concerning potential for sensitive information to be stored and then later retrieved by the service.
It may sound ironic, but the speed of this innovation is a sign for leaders to slow down their adoption process. A wait and see approach may be best.
While AI is developing fast, it has few proof points, regulation, or proven use cases for large-scale implementation in education.
In contrast, existing tech like mobile technology and process automation have been safely, efficiently, and effectively implemented at many schools across the country.
Features like notification systems and GPS, paired with automation software, can help schools take massive leaps forward in daily operations. This frees up hours of time for staff and improves the quality of life for faculty and students alike.
In my work with hundreds of schools, I’ve noticed two major areas where schools can optimize their existing tech stacks using mobile technology and automation software.
Many schools still rely on teachers with a paper spreadsheet during emergencies and drills. If a student has gone missing, the teacher needs to take action while still supervising the rest of their class.
False issues arise when a student has been safely identified by another teacher, but there’s no way to share this information. Administrators often don’t get updates until a drill or situation is over, wasting precious minutes in the case of an emergency.
A better way is to leverage mobile phones for student and staff check-in. Students can easily receive automated notifications with check-in prompts, and administrators can automatically receive updated data to guide crucial decision making.
Building attendance, though required every day, is under-optimized in countless schools.
Issues often begin at check-in, with long lines at a security desk or office door. Then, attendance managers spend time confirming student locations to correct their records. Calling home requires switching between tools, and there can be confusion and embarrassment when mistakes are made.
For these challenges, automation and GPS are clear solutions. In this case, automation means using software to do some or all of a process. Software automations can speed up routine tasks such as marking students late based on arrival time, or notifying staff if students are not where they are supposed to be.
Check-in can be improved through scanning in at mobile attendance kiosks and/or using GPS check-in on students’ devices. Instead of relying on manual entry, students can scan a physical or digital ID at an iPad kiosk, or even have their phone’s GPS automatically prompt them to check in when they arrive on campus.
Especially for older students, these options can greatly reduce the time spent on a task that’s required every day.
During this time of rapid technological development in AI, it’s important for school leaders to focus not on technological tools themselves, but on the problems and challenges they are trying to address in their buildings. Then, it is easier to work backwards and find the tools that specifically address these challenges.
Will AI transform education? Time will only tell.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of room for many school leaders to use more proven technology to transform their buildings by improving daily operations.