Article

Integrate AI at School – Striking a Balance

Jun 06, 2024
APAC Article Image Integrate AI at school Striking a balance

Real-Life Experience and Advice from Nanjing International School

By Dr. Shannon H. Doak, Director of Technology at Nanjing International School

At Nanjing International School (NIS) in China, we take immense pride in being at the forefront of educational innovation. As the director of technology, it has been my privilege to contribute to the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into our curriculum and daily practices. This journey, characterized by both challenges and rewards, has provided us with valuable experiences, insights, and advice for other schools embarking on a similar path.

What Does AI Integration Look Like at NIS?

NIS has adopted a pioneering role in the region by integrating AI across various grade levels, from grades 2 through 12. Our early adoption and piloting of AI platforms have enabled us to explore and harness AI's potential to enhance learning experiences. We have conducted numerous professional development sessions for our teachers, covering essential topics such as advanced prompting techniques, custom-built educational chatbots, the use of an AI platform for launching virtual learning environments, and AI art generation.

Our real-life experience with AI integration has been transformative. Teachers are saving time and enhancing learning environments with AI, while students engage with our AI platform under teacher guidance. This hands-on approach has significantly boosted engagement from both teachers and students. One particularly interesting project involved an AI chatbot designed as a carbon footprint calculator. Grade 3 students used this chatbot to calculate their class's carbon footprint and received suggestions on reducing their impact. This project generated substantial interest, culminating in a guest speaker session for the entire grade level. This example highlights how we are addressing the needs of our students by helping them connect personal actions with the impact on climate change. AI is making a positive impact by fostering deeper understanding and engagement with critical real-world issues.

Our AI integration philosophies and practices are fully aligned with NIS' mission to inspire international-mindedness, personal excellence, and creative thinking, ensuring that our approach to AI supports our commitment to inclusion and sustainability.

Transparent communication with all our school constituents—senior leadership, the school board, parents, students, and teachers—has been crucial in articulating our intentions, philosophies, and the rationale behind integrating AI into our curriculum. By openly sharing our vision and the benefits we anticipate, we've fostered a deeper understanding and garnered substantial support from the community. This inclusive approach ensures that everyone is on the same page, promoting a collaborative and supportive environment as we navigate this innovative journey together.

What Safeguarding and Ethical Considerations Have You Taken?

As we integrate AI into our school environment, safeguarding our students remains a top priority. We train our teachers to educate students on the importance of not sharing personal information with AI platforms. Additionally, we ensure that any personally identifiable information is redacted before teachers utilize it in AI for professional purposes. To further protect our students, we have adopted an AI platform that does not require students to log in or create accounts, allowing them to benefit from AI without compromising their privacy.

Why Should Schools Integrate AI?

AI is rapidly becoming ubiquitous in our world, and it is our responsibility as educators to prepare our students to use AI responsibly, safely, and appropriately. AI can revolutionize education by making it more contextually relevant to our students' needs. As we prepare students for a future filled with unknowns, we must equip them with the skills and knowledge to navigate and thrive in an AI-driven world.

Advice to Schools: A Three-Phase Cyclical Process

To successfully integrate AI into your school, I recommend following a three-phase cyclical process: philosophy and guidance, action and implementation, and reflection and strengthening.

Phase 1: Philosophy and Guidance

  • Mission & Strategy Alignment: Ensure that AI integration aligns with your school’s mission, vision, and strategy. AI should enhance your educational goals, not detract from them.
  • Philosophy & Practices: Develop clear documents outlining your school’s philosophy, beliefs, and practices regarding AI. Create one-pagers to simplify implementation for teachers and students.
  • Choice of Tools: Select a few (two to five) AI platforms or tools to be your official school tools. Choose platforms that align with your educational objectives and are user-friendly.
  • Legal Considerations: Understand the applicable laws and regulations related to AI use in education. Ensure that your AI practices comply with these legal requirements to protect your students and staff.

Phase 2: Action and Implementation

  • Community Communication: Communicate your AI integration plans clearly to all members of the school community, including teachers, students, and parents. Transparency is key to building trust and support.
  • Student Communication/Piloting: Clearly explain the who, what, when, where, why, and how of AI use to your students. Provide examples and run pilot programs to demonstrate AI’s potential and gather feedback.
  • Faculty Communication: Educate your faculty on AI philosophy and practices. Offer internal and external professional development opportunities to upskill and train teachers.
  • Parent Communication: Keep parents informed about the AI integration process, philosophy, and practices, and tell them how they can support their children at home.

Phase 3: Reflection and Strengthening

  • Measure: Assess the impact of AI on teaching and learning, administrative functions, and teacher workload. Use data to understand what is working and what needs adjustment.
  • Reflect: Regularly review and update your AI-related documents to reflect changes and advancements in the AI field.
  • Update: Make necessary updates to your documents, tools, and practices based on your reflections and measurements.
  • Adjust: Adapt your approaches and training programs to meet the evolving needs of your students and staff.
  • Communicate: Continuously communicate any changes or updates to the school community to keep everyone informed and engaged.

What Does the Future Hold?

With the latest updates to ChatGPT 4 Omni (GPT-4o) and its enhanced multimodal capabilities, the future of AI in education looks brighter than ever. These advancements are setting the stage for AI to become a game changer in creating individualized learning paths, perfectly aligned with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. By harnessing AI's ability to understand and interact with various forms of input, we can offer more personalized and engaging educational experiences. This tech promises to tailor learning to each student's unique needs, ensuring that everyone has the chance to thrive in an inclusive and dynamic educational environment.

Conclusion

Integrating AI into education is a dynamic and ongoing process that requires careful planning, execution, and reflection. At Nanjing International School, we have seen firsthand the transformative power of AI in enhancing education. By following a structured approach and prioritizing the safety and well-being of our students, we can harness AI’s potential to prepare them for a future where AI will be an integral part of their lives.

I encourage other schools to embrace AI with enthusiasm and caution, ensuring that their implementation strategies align with their educational missions and values. Together, we can create learning environments that are innovative, engaging, and safe for all students.

About the Author

This article was written by Dr. Shannon H. Doak, director of technology at Nanjing International School. He is an edtech and innovation leader, speaker, author, Poe creator, coffee lover, and home barista. He is an experienced leader and educator at international and independent schools and has worked in international schools in China for almost two decades. He is an expert in blended learning and e-learning, and he is practiced in making professional development more effective. Dr. Doak is an expert in using Web 2.0 and 3.0 tools for professional learning. He is a lifelong learner and a social media and mobile device enthusiast, who believes that connection is the key to real learning. He is an AI enthusiast and early adopter. He holds an Ed.D. and a master’s in educational technology, a degree certificate in school technology coordination, and a Bachelor of Education in Elementary Education. Dr. Doak has been at the forefront of changing the digital and educational landscape of the schools he has worked for and is continually looking for ways that technology can improve teaching and learning.

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