Crafting ethical AI landscapes in K-12 education

Crafting ethical AI landscapes in K-12 education

Key points:

The summer of 2023 brought with it a declaration from our Executive Director of Technology that it would be the Summer of AI. As a digital learning team, we were assigned the responsibility of exploring the full spectrum of AI in education. The broad nature of this request led to investigations of AI in cybersecurity, data science, marketing, healthcare, and education.

Our AI deep dive resulted in the development of three guiding principles: high standards and expectations, future ready skills, and cultural proficiency. Each principle directly aligns with the district’s vision, mission, and core values. The three guiding principles have become the foundation which underpins all AI professional development, communication, and future planning.

As AI evolves to become an ever-present part of education, there must be a systemic imperative for K-12 school districts to cultivate an ethically-driven mindset. From district office operations to kindergarten classrooms, the integration of AI must be navigated with a moral compass, steering the use of AI toward the collective good while safeguarding against its potential pitfalls. Our AI guiding principles started this process of building an ethical AI mindset, which provided pathways to critically question AI in our system. As we reflect on our work to this point in time, we have identified four spaces (District, School, Classroom/Teacher, Student) in which we have worked to explicitly address ethical AI usage.

Defining AI in each of these spaces has resulted in the emergence of specific questions that guide AI usage and encourage innovation with AI.  For schools trying to figure out how to start on this AI journey, we hope that these guiding questions can be used to jump start the process. Questions are meant to be used in iterative cycles as organizations develop around AI and as AI continues to evolve.

For the purpose of this article, AI ethics in education will refer to principles that govern the use of AI so that individual rights, privacy, and well-being are respected within the entirety of the educational ecosystem. This framing of AI ethics in education considers the implications of AI’s decision-making capabilities, data usage, and potential biases, ensuring that AI tools are used to enhance educational outcomes without increasing inequities (Akgun & Greenhow, 2022; Hagendorff, 2020; Nguyen et al., 2023). Additionally, the broad term of artificial intelligence (AI) in this context will be defined as the branch of computer science concerned with creating systems that can perform tasks requiring human intelligence, including generative AI technologies that produce content, solve problems, and adapt to new information within the educational sector, aiming to support and enhance learning processes and outcomes.

District: The foundation of ethical AI integration

At the district level, ethical AI use is about setting a precedent. Districts must develop guidelines that balance innovation with responsibility (Holter, Rummel & Skadsem, 2024). These guidelines should address privacy, equity, and security while fostering an environment where AI tools enhance cultural proficiency and educational standards. Questions for the district might include:

  • How can we create AI usage guidelines that respect student and teacher privacy and ensure equitable access to technology?
  • What measures will we implement to monitor the impact of AI and adjust our strategies accordingly?
  • In what ways will our investment in AI technologies reflect our dedication to cultural competency and educational excellence?

School: Building an ethical AI culture

Schools must create a learning environment where ethical AI use is part of the culture. This involves professional development for staff, inclusive innovation, and community engagement to demystify AI. Potential questions include:

  • How can we establish a school culture that values ethical considerations in the use of AI?
  • What training can we provide to empower our educators to integrate AI ethically into their teaching practices?
  • In what ways can we involve parents and the community in our journey toward responsible AI use?

Teacher: The ethical AI practitioner

Teachers are the front-line practitioners of ethical AI use in the classroom. They are responsible for selecting, implementing, and evaluating AI tools that support their pedagogical goals and students’ needs. They are also role models for their students, demonstrating critical thinking and ethical reasoning when using AI. Potential questions include:

  • How can we assess the quality, reliability, and suitability of AI tools for our learning objectives and contexts?
  • How can we ensure that the AI tools we use are fair, transparent, and accountable, and do not introduce or reinforce biases or discrimination?
  • How can we foster a culture of inquiry and reflection among our students, encouraging them to question the ethical implications of AI use and generation?

Student: The ethical AI learner

Students are the primary beneficiaries and users of AI in education. They are expected to engage with AI tools as learners, creators, and consumers of content. They are also the future citizens and leaders who will shape the direction and impact of AI in society. Potential questions include:

  • How can we develop the skills and competencies that enable us to use AI effectively and responsibly for our learning and personal growth?
  • How can we express our creativity and originality with AI tools, while respecting the intellectual property and moral rights of others?
  • How can we critically evaluate the AI-generated content that we encounter, and challenge the assumptions and values that underlie it?

Conclusion

The journey toward integrating AI into K-12 education ethically is a collaborative endeavor requiring engagement at all levels. By addressing the unique considerations within districts, schools, classrooms, and the student body, we lay the groundwork for an education system that not only prepares students for the future, but does so with a strong ethical foundation. This article serves as a call to action for educational leaders to engage with AI responsibly, ensuring that technology enhances the learning experience without compromising our commitment to our core human and organizational values.

References

Akgun, S., Greenhow, C. Artificial intelligence in education: Addressing ethical challenges in K-12 settings. AI Ethics 2, 431–440 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-021-00096-7

Hagendorff, T. The Ethics of AI Ethics: An Evaluation of Guidelines. Minds & Machines 30, 99–120 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11023-020-09517-8

Holter, A., Rummel, & Skadsem, H. (2023)  Bloomington Public Schools: Digital Learning AI One-Pager. https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vR-N4hgLDay6Io5LnEoq7IDqUU_H0g10s-Z5UbfiJET-JlrH_OTUf_8j0akNJAfc9MLlOimZuirHSWG/pub

Holter, A., Rummel, & Skadsem, H. (2024)  Bloomington Public Schools: AI in BPS- Guiding Principle https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WHTy3Uc0uMwLOZ68yidZwwz7o3K4UpgBVK4wEiCWAOM/edit?usp=sharing

Nguyen, A., Ngo, H.N., Hong, Y. et al. Ethical principles for artificial intelligence in education. Educ Inf Technol 28, 4221–4241 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-022-11316-w

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