In the wild wheat-filled land of Washington State sits Walla Walla High School, a place where students have long learned the ancient art of animal husbandry in a rustic red barn. But as the new school year gets underway, there’s a new frontier of knowledge on the horizon: A.I. chatbots. Yep, you heard that right. These teachers at Walla Walla High are getting ready to teach their students how to navigate the world of ChatGPT and other chatbots.
Just last month, Walla Walla Public Schools held a special workshop for around 100 local educators. They gathered at the high school to dive into the intricacies of these chatbots that have the power to generate essays, stories, and all sorts of written content. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a district that, just a few months ago in February, prohibited students from accessing ChatGPT on school devices.
But now, the perspective has shifted. “I do want students to learn to use it,” says Yazmin Bahena, a middle school social studies teacher. “They are going to grow up in a world where this is the norm.” It seems that while chatbots caused quite a commotion in the media, schools across the U.S. have realized that banning them was futile. Students with access to personal devices could still use them outside of school, while others were left behind.
New York City schools even issued an apology for rushing into a ban and decided to unblock ChatGPT. The Los Angeles schools are also reconsidering their position. It’s clear that educators and district leaders are now facing a conundrum: What does teaching writing look like in an age where chatbots can spit out content with the click of a button? How can schools and teachers effectively incorporate these bots into their programs? And what constitutes cheating when a student asks a bot to generate a rough draft?
Some districts, like Milwaukee, are still keeping their ChatGPT blocks in place. Others, like Newark Public Schools, are experimenting with specialized chatbots designed for student tutoring. And then there are those districts that see these chatbots as teaching tools and opportunities for students to understand the potential pitfalls of relying on them for information.
“The world our kids are inheriting is going to be full of A.I., and we need to make sure they are well equipped for it, both the benefits and the drawbacks,” says Wade Smith, the superintendent of Walla Walla Public Schools. “Putting our heads behind the curtain or under the sheets and hoping it goes away is simply not reality.”
Walla Walla Public Schools is a perfect example of a district on a learning curve when it comes to A.I. Administrators recognized the potential advantages and challenges of chatbots and decided to set up an A.I. advisory committee. They blocked access initially, allowing time to study the technology and provide training for teachers and students.
Recently, a group of local teachers gathered at Walla Walla High for a workshop on A.I. tools. The goal was to explore how these tools could enhance lesson planning and student learning. The teachers, some novices and others more advanced, dabbled with ChatGPT to create literary games and translations for their classes.
Of course, some concerns remain. Teachers worry that students might not critically evaluate the content generated by chatbots. But for now, Walla Walla is encouraging teachers to embrace the chatbots while teaching students to approach them with a discerning eye. The district believes that with proper training and guidance, these chatbots can be a valuable addition to the classroom.
As the workshop wrapped up, the regional technology trainer expressed her satisfaction at seeing so many educators comfortable with A.I. chatbots. She emphasized the importance of schools reconsidering their bans on chatbots when teachers, families, and students receive proper training. It seems like Walla Walla High and other schools are stepping into the future, ready to navigate the world of chatbots and equip their students for the A.I.-filled world ahead.