Education in Wyoming is beginning to wrestle with artificial intelligence

An artificial intelligence arms race is underway in the US, raising some eyebrows in education in Wyoming.

The University of Wyoming has a new artificial intelligence working group to guide the school as it considers how the spread of the new technology will affect higher education. Last month, this working group issued recommendations to President Ed Seidel, including banning the “unauthorized use” of artificial intelligence on campus.

But while artificial intelligence has become a topic of discussion at university, it’s only beginning to spark conversations in Wyoming’s education system as administrators and school boards begin to educate themselves about the technology and its impact on student learning and teaching.

“It’s a new conversation, something that people are just now realizing and really learning,” said Brian Farmer, executive director of the Wyoming School Boards Association.

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The national discussion on artificial intelligence in education began with the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT last November. OpenAI is a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence research company that aims to make the technology easier to use and accessible to the general public.

ChatGPT, on the other hand, is an artificial intelligence program built using “big language models,” which are essentially computer algorithms trained on sets of data so they can recognize, summarize, and predict words and text.

The key is that ChatGPT and other “chatbots” are generative, meaning they can answer complex questions and simulate human-like conversations.

In practice it looks like this:

Ask ChatGPT: “What should people in Wyoming know about artificial intelligence chatbots?”

And the program responds, “As chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) become more mainstream across multiple industries, it’s important for Wyoming people to be aware of the potential benefits and limitations of these technologies.”

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In a matter of seconds, it lists five points Wyomingites should know, including that chatbots are “designed to mimic human conversation” and that “they may not be appropriate for all situations and should not replace human interaction when empathy, judgment, and critical Thinking required are required.”

“Overall, AI chatbots have the potential to offer significant benefits to businesses and customers alike, but it’s important to approach them with caution and carefully consider their appropriate use.”

The program isn’t the only artificial intelligence program schools and educators are now having to grapple with. Microsoft has integrated the technology into its Bing search engine, and more and more companies are creating similar programs that allow a person to generate answers to questions.

Use but don’t abuse

With that in mind, Seidel founded UW’s Artificial Intelligence Chatbots Working Group in January to develop recommendations for how the school should approach the technology.

“In higher education, one of the main applications of these technologies is to generate detailed answers to complex questions with impressive accuracy in a matter of seconds,” wrote Seidel in a letter to the head of the working group. “It is imperative that we respond to this new technology in a manner that both maintains academic integrity and leverages the power and potential of the technology.”

In a Feb. 24 statement, Seidel noted that artificial intelligence programs will be “ubiquitous,” increasing the need for the university to address its role in higher education.

The working group, led by Anne Alexander, UW vice president for strategic planning and initiatives, and Renée Laegreid, chair of the UW faculty senate and professor of history, released its report within weeks of Seidel’s assignment.

Text from the ChatGPT page of the OpenAI website is shown in this February photo.

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Richard Drew, Associated Press

The main recommendation was to update the school’s policy on student academic dishonesty and cheating to prohibit students from “unauthorized use” of artificial intelligence programs.

The working group also suggested that UW’s Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning develop resources and guidance for teachers, and that the school’s academic advisors and other support staff communicate the university’s artificial intelligence policies to students and the broader community.

In recognition of the technology’s rapid growth, the group called for a long-term board to monitor emerging technology and help the university adapt.

“With this evolution, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the pace of development. Preparing for the future must be an iterative and evolving discussion for UW,” the team wrote.

In his statement, Seidel said he supports the artificial intelligence group’s recommendations.

Still early

In Wyoming, conversations about artificial intelligence have been largely confined to UW. The state’s K-12 system is just beginning to think about the impact of the technology.

There’s a new frontier in the world of higher education – artificial intelligence. More specifically, it is AI that can generate text like ChatGPT. Capable of writing entire essays simply by asking it a question or giving it a topic, the technology can sometimes be hard to spot when in use as the AI ​​creates individual responses each time, no two are identical .

“We haven’t heard many districts talk about it,” Farmer said. “I think it’s just going to depend on district to district how they become aware of this issue and how they plan to address it through their local politics.”

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Farmer said the dialogue will likely start with school administrators as they understand the technology and its impact on their school communities.

“It’s going to be a bigger challenge for the school administration,” he said. “Boards will likely learn about this from school administrators and then seek recommendations from their administrators on how they would address this in their district.”

At the state level, the Wyoming State Board of Education has not had discussions about artificial intelligence and its impact on education, but it has been made aware of the work surrounding the topic at UW, said Diana Clapp, the board of education coordinator and a former principal, curriculum director and district superintendent.

Given Wyoming’s emphasis on local control, the issue of artificial intelligence in schools will likely be a local rather than a state discussion, she said.

“We anticipate that this will likely be an issue of intense debate at the local level as academic honesty policies are controlled at the local level,” Clapp said.

The Wyoming Association of School Administrators hasn’t addressed the issue of artificial intelligence, but it’s one that Kevin Mitchell, the organization’s executive director, has been pondering amid national attention.

“I’m curious myself — as an ex-superintendent — how would that affect us?” Mitchel said. “Personally, it can certainly have some positive attributions, and then it could have some negative ones as well.”

Before school boards can act to address artificial intelligence, they would need to study the technology and possible answers, Farmer said.

“There’s a lot to learn,” he said.

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