Clark, Champaign schools learning how to use artificial Intelligence

Local superintendent: ‘AI can be an ally in education,’ but ‘it will never replace the teacher.’

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is becoming more prevalent and more popular, prompting most Clark and Champaign County schools to talk about, and in some cases, train for how to use it properly.

The Springfield News-Sun talked with several local school officials about AI, how they feel about it, and how they are, or are not, using it.

AI has made its way into all aspects of life over the last few years, and while it can support teachers and save time, “it will never replace the teacher,” said Graham Local Schools Superintendent Chad Lensman.

“AI can be used in education for various purposes, such as personalized learning through adaptive software, automating tasks, providing additional support for students with different learning styles, and providing adaptive learning support through different educational platforms,” he said. “The teaching staff can also use AI to provide lesson and intervention ideas and differentiated support. Teachers can take these tools and what they know about students to tailor learning and to meet individual student needs.”

Concerns about the use of AI exist and clear guidelines within schools need to be defined in board policies and student handbooks, so it’s vital to discuss the related benefits and risks to make sure districts are prepared.

Lensman said, “AI can be an ally in education, but it is important that policy is aligned, teachers are prepared, and students understand how or why it would be used.”

Some local schools have had professional development or teacher in-service days related to AI, including Clark-Shawnee Local, Northeastern Local, Mechanicsburg Exempted Village, Graham and Urbana City.

“It is essential that we train teachers on how to integrate these tools into the curriculum effectively and find ways to challenge students beyond what they can create or discover through the use of AI tools,” Lensman said. “Our teachers must have the confidence and understanding to address where AI is going and guide students on responsible and ethical use.”

Clark-Shawnee middle and high school teachers recently had a presentation on AI from Rob McDole, the director of the center for teaching and learning at Cedarville University. He shared some of the benefits that AI can offer as well as the dangers and pitfalls it can have.

“We know that AI technology exists, and just like the internet, there are benefits that AI can bring to teaching and learning,” said Superintendent Brian Kuhn, “but there are also challenges and dangers from the educator’s viewpoint. Our goal in public education is to help our students understand that this is a tool that exists but cannot be abused.”

This is the first formal session, and Kuhn said it helped teachers better understand AI to be more aware of what it is or isn’t.

“My understanding from the presentation is that there are legitimate benefits and uses of AI platforms in the classroom, and it’s making sure students know and are taught how to use them properly to support their learning and growth,” he said.

Northeastern Superintendent John Kronour echoed Kuhn, saying it’s like the internet and can provide a “sophisticated search feature with comprehensive responses.”

“Educating our students on the appropriate uses of AI is crucial to ensuring it augments their learning experiences without compromising their skill development,” he said. “We believe in empowering our staff with the knowledge of AI’s benefits, focusing on how it can streamline their workload and complement their existing responsibilities. Concurrently, we strive to guide our students in understanding AI’s potential risks and ethical uses.”

Many teachers at Northeastern are using AI as a resource to enhance their planning process, such as researching instructional resources and creating customized lesson plans that cater to students’ needs for quicker differentiation, said curriculum director Beverly Walkden.

“In our pursuit of keeping pace with global trends, we are exploring various ways to integrate AI into our classrooms. Although we do not currently have planned lessons or curriculum centered around AI, we recognize its potential and are committed to staying informed of its developments,” she said.

Greenon, however, is one Clark County district that does not use any AI in their schools and leaders are unsure if they plan to in the future, according to a district official.

Mechanicsburg’s technology committee recently had a session around two AI tools that teachers and students can use in the classroom, including Bard and That session focused on how it can help when it’s used with standards-aligned, specific prompts.

Staff members have been using AI to support lesson planning, rubric creation, assessment generation and adjusting reading passages to match student reading levels. They also are looking at using “AI Classroom Rules” by NEOnet as a guide for the technology committee to use to set a standard for the district when it comes to AI.

“We want our staff and students to be exposed to AI, to feel comfortable using it, and to use it in a responsible and innovative manner to further instruction and learning,” said Superintendent Danielle Prohaska. “Our students and staff have already been using AI in everyday life. We want to embrace this tool rather than keep it from students and staff. AI is not going away, so refusing to think about how it can impact teaching and learning is not reasonable.”

At Urbana, they are also trying to embrace the use of AI, and one of the guidelines they’ve talked about with staff is implementing an 80/20 rule when using it.

“To us, this means that you can allow AI to do 80% of the work, but the teacher (or student) has to put in the 20% to review the content and add in your personalization, make sure there isn’t any bias and check the work for accuracy,” said Kelli Marsh, director of technology integration. “AI should not replace good teaching or be the sole source for student work. It should be used to enhance the output you are creating.”

The school began offering optional professional development on AI last summer, and 60 staff members have attended at least one AI session this year to allow them to learn how to use it to support their teaching. For teachers, AI can be a time saver when used for routine tasks that can be automated. It also can spark new teaching ideas, allow teachers to differentiate and personalize learning and create lessons. For students, it can be a personal tutor, help kickstart the writing process, create ways of studying class notes, and refine and revise essays.

Instead of blocking and avoiding AI, the district is taking a proactive approach and having conversations with students, such as if teachers use AI to create assignments, writing prompts, emails and more. Officials also are working with students to create guidelines about how AI can and cannot be used in classrooms.

“We feel that it is important for staff to understand how to use AI in order to be able to teach students how to use AI responsibly. We have discussed how AI will change the way teachers teach and students learn,” Marsh said. “We have also looked at ways that AI is already changing professions — the way films are produced, books written, artwork created, and we feel that teachers need a strong background in how AI is being used across various professions as well as the pros and cons of using AI in order to best teach students how to use AI in an ethical manner.”

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