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New AI Technology Ignites Faculty Inquiry

In late 2022, when OpenAI launched the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT, news sources predicted the end of education and work as we know them, not to mention the quickening obsolescence of human skills. While the long-term impact of generative AI remains to be seen, what’s clear is that the technology is so powerful that it has already begun to change how and what we teach and learn. First, the technology allows users to bypass traditional research practices to receive information. And, while early versions of the technology have “hallucinated” results, making it an unreliable source, the chatbot offers a tempting shortcut—it can compose written work to spec in a matter of seconds.

This image was created by the DALL•E image AI based on the article title.

This image was created by the DALL•E image AI based on the article title.

At a faculty meeting in January, Associate Head of School Sarah Cooper directly addressed concerns about academic integrity, contextualizing the rise of AI alongside other tools that have been seen as disruptive to traditional learning—from SparkNotes and Wikipedia to calculators and essay writing services. How, she asked faculty, might we turn the challenge of this new technology into an opportunity to evaluate our teaching methods? Her first suggestion was to think differently about our assignments, as well as our assessment goals.

History Department Chair Josh Perlman says generative AI is the “most significant technical achievement” of his lifetime. Inspired to understand its implications, he put together a list of resources to share with English and history teachers. This spring, librarian Meryl Eldridge and history teacher Abel Fuentes shared activities to reinforce the iterative nature of research. Their techniques require students to slow down and show their work throughout the process, both to improve research outcomes and to avoid academic integrity issues.

Our story with generative AI is only just beginning. Cooper participated in a workshop sponsored by the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools (ATLIS) this summer, and she will present at a national conference called AI x Education in August.

“What is especially exciting is having the chance to learn and explore this technology at the same time as our students. We are all navigating this massive paradigm shift together,” Cooper says. That said, the questions raised by generative AI are profound. “Whom do we write for? What do we code for? Why do we create art? Students need to know how to sort through and analyze what AI produces. And, ultimately, they need to develop their own distinctive voices and approaches to thinking, to be able to engage creatively and courageously with what comes next.”

An Alum in the Field

Joanne Jang ‘13, a product lead at OpenAI, led the teams that turned research on DALL•E (which creates original images using AI) and GPT-4 (the most advanced model powering ChatGPT) into helpful tools. While developing these products, she interviewed several educators, including Sarah Cooper, about AI’s impact on education, and was delighted to hear Mrs. Cooper’s nuanced perspective that OpenAI should prioritize discussions on how education should evolve as opposed to how new technology should be stopped.

“Sarah’s insights epitomize Prep’s values in setting students up for success to not only adapt— but thrive—in new settings,” Joanne shares.