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How AI tools are being used in classrooms

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When ChatGPT came out a year and a half ago, big school districts like LA Unified rushed to block the tool amid fears that students would use it to cheat. Well now, many districts have reversed or softened those bans, and they're embracing AI more broadly. For example, LA Unified just launched its own AI-powered chatbot this spring. It's called Ed.

Other districts in California are using AI-driven tools to grade papers or to give students feedback on their writing. But there is little state regulation or oversight, as Khari Johnson recently reported for CalMatters. Welcome.

KHARI JOHNSON: Thanks a lot for having me.

CHANG: Well, thanks for being with us. So, I know that you talked to a few teachers in California who are using AI to not only grade papers and assess students' writing but also to give feedback, right? Like, how does this work?

JOHNSON: Yeah, so when a student turns in a paper, you know, the teacher can run it through a system. You know, for example, one of the teachers who I spoke with, Jen Roberts, is an English teacher from Point Loma High School in San Diego. And she would use a tool called Writable. And so she would put the writing from a student into the system, and it would provide analysis based on their - her grading rubric and then about a paragraph of feedback per student. And she will go through and review the grade and the feedback before handing that back to the student.

CHANG: And how much do the students know that the feedback they're getting, in many cases, is computer generated?

JOHNSON: Oh, they're well aware. And, you know, I think one of the main, you know, parts of guidelines that the California Department of Education has released on use of AI is to use it in a transparent way and to have conversations with students about when it's OK and not OK to use the technology, similar to a calculator in a math class.

CHANG: Right. OK, so I get why this would be helpful for teachers. Obviously, AI can help save them a lot of time. But did these teachers talk to you about how these tools are actually affecting their students' performance?

JOHNSON: Yeah. So the teachers that I spoke with who have used AI in their classroom over the course of the past school year said that their ability to assign writing assignments quicker - because they were getting feedback quicker by using AI, they were able to give more writing assignments to their students. And they described it as a - kind of a virtuous process, that it led to improvements in their students' writing.

CHANG: OK. But I have a question because even though the state may be issuing guidelines on how educators should use AI, the state does not track AI use among school districts, right? So how do we know if these tools are truly helping or maybe, in some cases, harming student performance more broadly?

JOHNSON: We genuinely do not. And while, you know, the teachers that I spoke with said that it definitely saves them time - one teacher even described it as feeling like the feedback that she was getting from GPT-4 felt like the AI was, like, in her brain...

CHANG: Oh, my God.

JOHNSON: ...You know? They also described that, in some instances - that it was returning grades that were not consistent with the type of grade that they would give.

CHANG: Which seems so unfair because grades are...

JOHNSON: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Huge when it comes to getting into certain colleges.

JOHNSON: Absolutely. And, you know, I think the AI regulatory regime that is emerging in a lot of places says that higher scrutiny should be placed on AI models with the possibility of having adverse impact on people's lives. And this seems like it could potentially fit that description.

CHANG: That is Khari Johnson, tech reporter for CalMatters. His piece is called "California Teachers Are Using AI To Grade Papers. Who's Grading The AI?" Thank you so much for joining us, Khari.

JOHNSON: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONSTARR'S "DETRIOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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