With the new school year underway, and an increased number of students turning to generative AI for help with homework, college applications and simple amusement, local Jewish educators are determining appropriate usage.
At both Community Day School and Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, teachers and administrators dedicated back-to-school meetings to discussing ChatGPT. Released last November, the app uses natural language processing to solve equations, translate text, write copy and create conversation.
CDS is approaching the technology as “something exciting and innovative, instead of bad and taboo,” Ilana Kisilinsky, the school’s director of marketing and communications, said. “We want to teach students the honest and ethical way to use it as a tool.”
Teachers are developing guidelines, but the mindset is on how they can “stimulate curiosity and excitement” while also fostering trust, Kisilinsky said.
Such a scenario may occur when a student feels “stuck” with an assignment, the Jewish day school representative said. In response, a teacher might demonstrate how AI generates a prompt that serves as a catalyst for future work.
Ultimately, Kisilinsky continued, the goal is having teachers and students team up through the learning process.
“It’s not about trying to catch them,” she said. “The expectation of students with AI is the same as it was with Wikipedia five to 10 years ago. Students should work hard and submit their own work, no matter what technology is around and able to be used.”
An Aug. 7 Brookings report reviewed responses to generative AI within public schools. While districts across the country differ between banning or integrating the technology, the think tank suggests schools “establish guiding principles, provide training resources and empower educators to implement those principles.”
Rabbi Sam Weinberg, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh’s principal, said the Jewish day school has been “monitoring AI for a while.”
Research and discussions culminated in a summer in-service program during which educators and school leaders reviewed “how to incorporate AI into the classroom; what we can do to advance our learning and students’ learning; and how to teach writing in the world of AI,” he said.
Whether it’s AI or other resources, Weinberg said, there are competing interests: “On one hand, we have to teach students how to use technology, but on the other hand, we have to teach students how to write.”
In accomplishing the latter, Hillel Academy is revisiting a bygone tactic.
“We are doing a lot more paper and pencil writing in the classroom where we can really teach some skills,” Weinberg said.
Although the old-school approach to composition is purposefully low-tech, educators are also integrating lessons on “how to use AI appropriately,” he added.
Determining correct usage isn’t a given.
Fifty-four percent of college students reported their instructors have “not openly discussed the use of AI tools like ChatGPT,” according to a BestColleges survey of 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Likewise, 60% of college students said “neither their schools nor instructors have specified how to use AI tools ethically or responsibly.”
Weinberg said Hillel Academy has rules against students relying solely on AI.
The fact is, he continued, even with software claiming to detect the presence of app-generated text, educators and students need to demonstrate trust and maturity in a world where ethical lines are still being drawn.
“Kids know about AI,” he said. “They use it for bar mitzvah speeches and for science. We have to show them how to use it effectively. The question of ethics and technology is nothing new. We’ve been inevitably headed in this direction ever since ‘Terminator 2.’ The machines are getting smarter than us. This is just the calm before the storm.”
Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh declined to discuss its response to AI. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.