New Jersey unveils resources for educators using AI in schools as state aims to pioneer innovations

Elementary school girl in computer lab just her hands and side of face showing.
As artificial intelligence gains popularity, education experts continue to note that safety and privacy concerns should remain a top priority as AI expands in schools. (Getty Images)

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As part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s call to create an “artificial intelligence moonshot” in New Jersey, the state’s department of education unveiled a set of resources last week aimed at helping educators understand, implement, and manage artificial intelligence in schools, state education officials said.

The resources range from articles about teaching and learning on artificial intelligence to a webinar that explains the history of the technology and how it is used in education. The materials do not outline strict regulations on how to use AI in education but they are New Jersey’s first guidance for school districts to “responsibly and effectively” integrate AI-powered technology in the classroom, and incorporate tools to facilitate administrative tasks in schools, according to a state department of education press release.

But as the technology gains popularity, education experts continue to note that safety and privacy concerns should remain a top priority as AI expands in schools. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says states should consider protections for AI in classrooms that take into consideration educators and parents.

“We know that school districts can’t just say privacy matters,” Weingarten said. “There has to be a tech translator, there have to be parent information sessions, and there has to be classroom guidance.”

The state’s new artificial intelligence resources come as Newark Public Schools takes steps to incorporate more AI in classrooms and surveillance systems.

Last month, the school board approved a $12 million project to install more than 7,000 AI cameras districtwide this summer. District leaders said the high-tech surveillance system is meant to make schools safer, but security experts warned that such capabilities could result in an invasion of privacy or could potentially misidentify items or students.

The district is also considering the expansion of Khanmigo, an AI program designed for the classroom and meant to tutor students and assist teachers. So far, there is little research on whether tools like Khanmigo are effective but experts have also said school districts should consider the learning goals for their students.

New Jersey’s resources do not set parameters for student privacy but the department of education created an artificial intelligence webpage that provides an overview of AI and its systems, terms, and concepts, and guidance tailored for school leaders and teachers. The page will be updated regularly to keep up with the “fast-paced” changes to AI, the state said.

The state also released a webinar that introduces the fundamentals of AI technology and explains how the technology can support and enhance teaching and learning and provide personalized feedback to students depending on the type of technology. AI systems that use machine learning, such as facial recognition software or email spam filters, employ algorithms to make decisions based on data, while systems like chatbots use deep learning to identify complex patterns and relationships in data, the webinar explained.

The state’s webinar also prompts school districts to think about how new technology can support student learning and suggests that districts should review policies as AI evolves and integrates into learning. It also encourages school leaders to think through guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable uses of AI and discuss how the new tools are best implemented.

AFT President Weingarten says “there is tremendous potential for AI use in schools” but school districts and their tech departments should review programs and materials before allowing students access to them. She also warned that with any new technology, the safety and privacy of students should be protected.

AFT released its own set of AI guard rails on Tuesday that focus on educators and provide resources for teachers as they grapple with the new integration of AI in schools. The report lists six core values that focus on maximizing safety and privacy, empowering educators to make decisions on AI, and advancing fairness and equity of the technology among other values.

Through its Innovation Fund, AFT is also providing over $200,000 to 11 school districts across the country to find solutions to incorporate, understand, and regulate AI with input from educators. The United Federation of Teachers in New York City, Cranston Teachers Alliance in Rhode Island, Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association in Florida, and other union locals will work with their school districts to create AI summits to understand and establish guidelines, provide hands-on training for educators, and establish workshops, panels, and community events.

“I’m not saying that there’s not a way to do it, but who’s responsible for data privacy, who’s responsible for student protection?” Weingarten said.

The state department’s office of innovation plans to meet with educators to obtain feedback, learn how AI is being used in classrooms, and discover existing needs to inform new guidance, resources, and professional development, according to the state’s press release. The department is also part of the Teach AI initiative, a consortium of state departments of education and international organizations that work to create guidelines for AI policy and resources.

Jessie Gómez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.

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