Indiana schools embrace AI, but seek to ‘keep humans in the loop’

Conceptual image of AI.
Indiana schools are using AI platforms to ease teacher workloads while students get immediate feedback on their assignments. (Getty Images)

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The Indiana Department of Education’s first formal foray into artificial intelligence led to thousands of students working with AI tutors and learning from lesson plans created by AI.

A total of 112 schools across all grade levels in 36 districts participated in the department’s nearly $2 million AI pilot program grant, which allowed each district to purchase an AI platform that could plan lessons, differentiate content for students depending on their abilities, as well as offer tutoring and feedback to students.

The goal of the grant was to “leverage AI for the good,” said Secretary of Education Katie Jenner, as schools in Indiana and nationwide grapple with how AI can be used ethically in the classroom amid concerns about academic integrity.

“Any policy has to keep humans in the loop,” said Diana Smith, the department’s director of digital learning at the June State Board of Education meeting. “AI is only going to be successful if teachers are the ones making decisions about how to implement it in the classroom.”

The pilot was funded through a one-time $1.8 million allocation in federal pandemic relief, but some districts have elected to continue funding the platforms via the department’s Digital Learning Grant. Each district received on average around $50,000.

The most common use for the AI platforms was time-saving purposes like lesson planning, according to a survey of teachers in the pilot program that drew 625 responses. Teachers also used AI for lesson differentiation, as well as student tutoring and feedback.

Around 53% of teachers in the survey rated the impact of AI on their students as positive.

However, teachers also reported issues with the usability of the platforms, the content across subject areas, and how well they could pick up students speaking.

Student safety was also a concern for the department. To participate in the program, the education-focused platforms had to protect student data and be safe for children to use, Smith said.

Jenner said it was important to draw a distinction between widely available generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, and the education-focused platforms that were part of the pilot program. The latter won’t give political or inappropriate answers, for example, she said.

Khanmigo, Khan Academy’s AI platform, was the most commonly used platform, with 20 of the 36 participating districts using it.

Districts also used Amira, Edia, Schooljoy, and others.

“We have to make sure it’s a safe environment,” Jenner said. “That’s what has given our teachers more comfort in letting the educator AI platform provide some of the tutoring, guidance, and feedback without being right there.”

The presentation highlighted how a handful of schools used their AI platforms:

  • At Newcastle High School, students learned how to prompt an AI tutor for feedback on their writing, including improving verb choices and sentence structure.
  • In Monroe Jr./Sr. High School, students received immediate feedback on their math work via the AI tutor.
  • Hobart schools used an AI platform for chemistry students to provide automatic differentiation.
  • In Perry schools, a third grade English learner student used assistance from the AI platform to participate in the class lesson.

Hobart schools also participated in Khanmigo’s AI pilot, according to a September newsletter from the Indiana Department of Education. In this program, the AI tool served as a “teacher assistant,” said Superintendent Peggy Buffington, writing exit ticket questions, learning objectives, and rubrics. Students used it to chat with literary characters and navigate the college admissions process.

Teachers with Indiana Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (INTESOL) also expect AI to have an impact on education.

At Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, teacher Manuel Torres uses diffit.me to change the reading level of an advanced text to allow students of all levels to participate. The website can also generate different types of questions and open-ended discussion prompts.

“This is great because it allows you to simplify the English instead of just translating it to the student’s language,” Torres said in an email.

A final report on the pilot program will be presented this summer. A full list of schools that participated in the pilot is available here.

The department is currently inviting alternative education programs to apply for grant funding to provide their students with an AI tutor.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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