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Can DPS lead on AI?

Editor’s note: This is the March article by monthly Boardhawk columnist Alexis Menocal Harrigan.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly evolving and education leaders are scrambling to understand what this technological evolution means for schools, educators, and students. 

Denver Public Schools (DPS) has the opportunity to shape the future of learning by cautiously embracing AI as a tool to empower educators, inspire students, and support administrators by building automated solutions to menial tasks. 

The use of AI by educators and students is largely unregulated and there are issues of ethics, safety, and bias that raise serious red flags for policymakers, educators, and parents. Many decision-makers responsible for creating guardrails or policies on AI in education are not informed enough on the topic to adequately consider the risks, rewards, and outcomes of the policies they set. 

In a recent article, Alyson Klein, a leading writer on Edtech policy reveals that nearly 80 percent of educators believe their districts do not have clear policies on the use of AI tools. She goes on to write that the lack of guidance is troubling because a majority of educators expect the use of AI in their districts to increase in the next year.

Even if districts have policies on AI, it does not mean educators are informed or prepared to abide by those policies. Educators need to receive training not only on how to use generative AI in different contexts, but how to stay in compliance with changing policies. 

There is the added complexity of being comfortable enough to use these technologies in classroom settings while being aware of the real harms to students in the context of data privacy, bias, ethics, and safety. 

Policymakers should be regulating technology at the district and school level while still allowing for enough flexibility to allow educators and students to be empowered creators and problem-solvers in partnership with generative AI technologies.

Denver Public Schools (DPS) and the Board of Education have a notable advantage as they navigate this new world, thanks to the expertise of their Chief Information Officer (CIO). In the AI education space, Dr. Richard Charles is DPS’ invaluable MVP (insert swaggy walk-up music for a guy with a PhD in applied mathematics).

Dr. Charles is an experienced technologist who understands the nuanced landscape of technology in education and AI as a means to improve student outcomes. In interviews he has  revealed he has been in the AI game since 1992 and has created around 40 GPTs. 

He often speaks on how to use AI as a tool to innovate and leverage curriculum and instruction. He is a national expert on AI in education and recently shared his knowledge with others during a statewide AI summit he co-hosted. About 20 districts participated in the event. 

In the spirit of this topic, after I wrote the section above on my own, here is what ChatGPT 3.5 had to say after I prompted it with this question: “Help me add 200 words to this opinion column to make a point about Denver Public Schools’ ability to lead on AI and give some concrete next steps they can take.”

Denver Public Schools (DPS) stands at a pivotal juncture, uniquely positioned to lead the charge in harnessing the potential of AI to transform education for the better. With Dr. Richard Charles at the helm as their Chief Information Officer (CIO), DPS possesses not only the expertise but also the vision needed to navigate the complexities of AI integration in education.

To capitalize on this advantage and chart a course for AI leadership, DPS can take concrete steps to shape the future of education. Firstly, the DPS Board of Education should prioritize the development of comprehensive AI policies that address ethical considerations, ensure student safety, and mitigate algorithmic biases. These policies should be informed by input from educators, parents, and experts in AI ethics to ensure they reflect the values and priorities of the DPS community.

Secondly, DPS can invest in professional development programs to equip educators with the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively leverage AI in their teaching practices. By providing ongoing training and support, DPS can empower educators to embrace AI as a tool for personalized learning and instructional enhancement.

Furthermore, DPS can establish partnerships with industry leaders, research institutions, and technology companies to stay at the forefront of AI innovation in education. Collaborative initiatives can facilitate the development of cutting-edge AI-powered tools and resources tailored to the specific needs of DPS students and educators.

By taking proactive steps to lead on AI adoption in schools, DPS can position itself as a trailblazer in 21st-century education, setting a precedent for other school districts to follow. With a commitment to ethical AI practices, comprehensive policy frameworks, and ongoing professional development, DPS can ensure that every student receives a high-quality education that prepares them for success in an AI-driven world.

As I was researching for this article, I came across two recent podcasts interviewing Dr. Charles about AI;  The Advanced Learning Partnerships: Navigating the AI Roadmap: An Insight into Denver Public Schools with Dr. Charles and Too Dope Teachers: AI as a Thought Partner, hosted by Gerardo Muñoz, Colorado’s 2021 Educator of the Year. If you are interested in hearing how DPS’ CIO is thinking about AI, I encourage people to take a listen.