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Iowa Educators Value AI as Teaching Assistant, Writing Coach

Iowa teachers are using artificial intelligence to draft emails, write individual educational plans and create rubrics, and they recommend students use it to check their work and come up with extra practice problems.

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(TNS) — Johannah Nanke normally takes six hours to create a lesson plan for her American Literature class, but now she can do it with the click of a mouse.

The West High School English teacher started utilizing artificial intelligence as her personal secretary this year. AI helps her with drafting emails, writing individual educational plans, creating rubrics and matching students to appropriate reading levels.

Many teachers in the area are delving into the world of AI in hopes of implementing it in their classrooms.

Ann Thomas, the media and library consultant for Central Rivers Area Education Agency, is taking the reins on teaching educators about the technology. She began holding professional development meetings about AI early this year after ChatGPT's 2022 launch. She's booked up every day through the end of January doing presentations.

"It got really good, really fast last November," she said. "Schools and education were kind of caught without knowing quite what to do."

She said it is important for school districts to not ban AI because "it's here and it's not going to go away," and students need to be taught how to use it ethically.

Kim Ross, a chemistry and physics teacher at Waverly-Shell Rock High School, is one of those educators taking the initiative to inform her students on how and when to use AI.

She became interested after learning about it from her daughter and eventually took summer classes on the topic, earning a credential through Drake University. She also attended a virtual conference on AI.

She uses the technology to help with lesson planning, create worksheets and problems, write scientific procedures and proofread her work.

She also encourages her 11th grade chemistry students to utilize ChatGPT to help check their work and provide them with extra practice problems. For students to get the best and most accurate results, she teaches them how to write good prompts — or what to input into the program.

In one of her recent lessons, Ross required students to use the tool to check their claims and evidence when doing lab reports. A claim is a statement that answers a question and evidence is scientific data that supports that claim.
This time last year, I was just really struggling ... AI gave me a second wind to my education.
Johannah Nanke, West High School English teacher

Junior Nolan Foster said it was unexpected when Ross told students at the beginning of the year that she was going to experiment with AI in the class.

"I was really surprised when she asked us to use it," he said. "I've had about five teachers not let us use it."

Foster puts his lab reports into ChatGPT to "make them better" as well as ask for extra practice problems. He likes AI because someone else doesn't need to be present to assist him.

"It helps because Mrs. Ross is one person," he said. "She can use it as another teacher."

Nanke said having an assistant in her classroom is helping her be a better teacher.

"This time last year, I was just really struggling," she said. "AI gave me a second wind to my education."

She said prior to AI helping write her emails, newsletters and rubrics, most of her time would be spent at the computer. Now, she is spending time in the class "actually with my kids" and is a more effective teacher.

AI not only gives Nanke extra time helping students, it also helps her come up with new projects and homework ideas. She tells students to use AI to help when they are struggling with things like creating a thesis statement or essay outline but only as a "jumping off point." She said students can use the technology to help them with rough drafts — something she doesn't always have the time for.

"(AI) invigorated my enthusiasm for what I do and takes some of the stress away, that mental load that we have of managing 140 children a day," she said. "This just really lets me focus on what is important — and that's working with my kids."

However, not all educators have been immediately keen on using AI. Thomas said many teachers and administrators are worried about plagiarism and cheating.

Technically, she noted, using AI to write something for you is not plagiarism. According to the law, plagiarism involves writing created by a human. The content created from AI is owned by the person who inputs the prompt.

Thomas said some districts are looking at reworking their plagiarism policies to deal with academic dishonesty.

Both she and Ross said cheating is not a new concept. Using AI to cheat is just another way to do it and is bound to happen, whether teachers allow using AI or not.

"I feel like I want (the idea of using AI) to be way out in the open and then have a discussion," Ross said. "There are kids that legitimately don't think there is wrong information."

In teaching about AI, whether to other educators or students, Ross and Thomas touch on bias and hallucinations. AI bias is an anomaly that comes from the program due to prejudiced assumptions made during the development of algorithms. Hallucinations are a response that includes false information.

"I certainly don't think (AI is) anything that schools should be putting behind a firewall," Thomas said. "This is going to be on the computers at home. They need to understand how to use it and use it ethically."

Another reason teachers are wary of using AI is because they are afraid it may take their jobs. But pro-AI educators say that isn't possible.

"This does not do your job for you," Nanke said. "You couldn't just throw anybody in these rooms with these kids."

"My philosophy is that it's a tool," Ross said. "And, with any tool, it doesn't replace anybody. You have to learn to use that tool correctly."

Ross also said everyone needs to learn about, or at least be aware of, the technology. She thinks there will eventually be legislation that could regulate AI. In turn, teaching students about the pros and cons of AI could help them be more informed in the future.

"You can draw your own conclusions about whether AI is good or bad, but it's here," she said. "It's going to become part of your life and you need to know what you're okay with and what you're not."

©2023 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.