The Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland have banned ChatGPT and similar “large language model” AIs from public schools until government education departments determine how they can be used “safely and appropriately” in classrooms.

Chatbots also are locked out of students’ telecom devices supplied by schools and from schools’ digital networks.

In addition to the risk of students using chatbots to do schoolwork for them, “there are a lack of reliable safeguards preventing these tools exposing students to potentially explicit and harmful content,” Megan Kelly, the NSW Department of Education’s acting deputy secretary for learning improvement, said in a public statement explaining the decision.

In contrast, educators in the state of Victoria have not banned chatbots but will monitor their use and “consider any appropriate actions as required.”

Concerns center around the chatbots’ ability to compose well-written essays. Chatbot-authored essays are not detectable by existing plagiarism detection software because chatbots’ compositions are original works.

Some Australian universities have decided to allow students to use chatbots in their assignments as long as they disclose that they have done so.

The universities are concerned about “the emergence of increasingly sophisticated text generators … capable of producing very convincing content and increasing the difficulty of detection,” Romy Lawson, Flinders University’s vice-chancellor said in a statement.

However, “instead of banning students from using such programs, we aim to assist academic staff and students to use digital tools to support learning,” she added.

“They must,” Vitomir Kovanovic, a lecturer in education at the University of South Australia, told The Guardian newspaper. “The alternative is the middle ages.”

“You cannot stop it,” he added. “It’s futile. You should be teaching them how to use it – they’re going to use it in the workplace anyway.” Not teaching students to use AI in classrooms “is like having a driving school but teaching people how to ride horses,” he said.

New York City’s schools seem to have heeded his words.

After banning ChatGPT from schools in January, the district has now lifted the blockade.

The ban was imposed out of fear that students would outsource their academic work to chatbots.

However, “the knee-jerk fear and risk overlooked the potential of generative AI to support students and teachers, as well as the reality that our students are participating in and will work in a world where understanding generative AI is crucial,” David Banks, the city’s education commissioner, wrote in an op-ed on Chalkbeat, a news website for educators.

District officials had conferred with industry experts as well as teachers, “many of whom had already started teaching about the future and ethics of AI,” Banks noted.

New York will educate its teachers to “teach AI” and give them “resources and real-life examples of successful AI implementation in schools to improve administrative tasks, communication, and teaching, and a toolkit of resources to use as they initiate discussions and lessons about AI in their classrooms,” Banks wrote.

TRENDPOST: Fears over AI in schools echoes the debate in the 1990s about allowing students to use calculators in math classes.

Yes, it’s useful to be able to do arithmetic in your head; having a skill is better than not having it. However, if students no longer have to spend their time memorizing multiplication tables, teachers can adjust lessons so students are challenged to master higher-order problems.

Writing is different, though. Numbers are not personal; writing is.  

The act of writing is thinkingdeciding the most effective way to structure an argument or choosing which words to use to convey an exact connotation, for example. The result is to deepen one’s understanding of ideas, because words are the tools we use to frame ideas, to ourselves as well as to others.

Also, through writing, we develop the voice we use in speakingand speaking well has long been a path to persuasion, leadership, and power.

Of course, many students outside of school will use chatbots to speed through homework so they can get on to videogames or pick-up basketball. 

Therefore, it becomes a difficult new challenge for teachers to find ways to motivate students to use chatbots as brainstorming partners and not as substitutes for thinking.

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