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Schools test classroom AI programs with Indiana state grants

School corporation explores classroom AI uses

LAWRENCE, Ind. (WISH) — In a classroom at Oaklandon Elementary School, a young child watches for a phrase to appear on the tablet screen in front of him.

“She speaks to them,” he slowly reads aloud into a headset.

Computerized language lessons are nothing new in 2023, but this program is different. On the other side of the screen, a computer program called Amira is tracking his speech down to individual phonemes, the smallest distinctive sound in a spoken language. Amira will adjust its lessons based on which parts are giving him the most trouble and track his progress. His teacher can log into Amira at any time, review the data, and determine where he might need extra help.

The Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, located in Marion County’s northeast corner, is one of 36 public school corporations to receive a pilot grant from the Indiana Department of Education to explore potential uses for AI in classrooms. School corporation officials said they decided to use the grant to field Amira in reading assistance classes at two elementary schools.

“We’re definitely looking at the positives that AI has on impact and effect on student outcomes and how it can also benefit teachers and complement the work that they’re doing,” said Adrienne Sargent, MSD Lawrence Township’s program coordinator.

AI, as it has developed within the past couple of years, is uncharted territory in the world of education. According to the Brookings Institution, 72% of K-12 teachers nationwide report receiving no guidance on the use of generative AI platforms such as ChatGPT. Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House Education Committee in the Indiana General Assembly, said lawmakers have had few discussions about whether or how to regulate it.

“There’s been interactions, but really not discussions in terms of what makes sense,” he said. “As a legislative body, do we do things to monitor? That has really not been discussed or vetted in the Indiana General Assembly to this point.”

Behning said he hopes IDOE’s pilot grant program provides some answers. By allowing school corporations to work with different vendors, he said state officials hope to identify best practices for schools to follow. He said he’s heard from teachers who have used ChatGPT to develop individualized education plans for students with special needs with tremendous success.

“I think it provides a huge opportunity for personalization. It can be a lot of help to teachers in the future,” he said. “I think there are some concerns in terms of the way AI can be abused.”

Behning said policymakers largely took a hands-off approach when computers and then the internet were first introduced in schools so that history might guide their approach to AI. He said teachers and IDOE officials are still figuring out what rules the department can write on its own and what will require the legislature to change state law. Behning said many of the risks cited by AI’s critics, such as cheating or distributing inappropriate material to minors, already are covered under existing law.

Sargent said that besides helping students with reading comprehension, the program can help English language learners or students with speech impediments. The program is not meant to be a diagnostic tool, though, and she said it’s designed to recognize the difference between dialect and true phonemic problems. She said parents should look at AI programs like Amira as simply another tool to help them and their children.

The IDOE grant runs through the end of the 2023-2024 school year.