May 20 2022

Can Administrators Ensure the Ethical Use of AI in K–12 Education?

School and IT leaders should consider these questions before investing in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies for the classroom.

As with many technologies used in K–12 learning environments, school leaders must guarantee that artificial intelligence is safe. In addition to the legal requirements placed on districts, there are ethical issues schools must consider before introducing new tech powered by AI and machine learning (ML).

To do this, there must first be an understanding of what AI looks like in education. “All of us have very different ideas for AI and algorithmic tools and machine learning and what these things are,” says sava saheli singh, an eQuality-Scotiabank postdoctoral fellow in AI and surveillance at the University of Ottawa.

The concepts of AI and ML are nebulous, meaning that everyone understands them a bit differently. The internet, and companies selling AI-powered products, can sway people’s understanding of this technology.

For school leaders to properly protect students using this tech, they must understand what AI and ML mean in the context of the products they’re adopting. IT administrators should also understand how the AI is using data and how the tools affect different student populations.

Click the banner to learn more about trending tech when you register as an Insider.

Do IT Leaders Understand How AI Works in K–12 Ed Tech?

The first consideration leaders must make is whether they understand the tools in which they’re investing. IT departments should know what the tools are doing behind the scenes to produce the results they see.

“There’s definitely a lack of understanding about what these systems are, how they’re implemented, who they’re for and what they’re used for,” singh says.

In understanding how AI works, IT leaders must remember that these systems rely on data.

“AI only works if you grab data. It only works if you grab data from everywhere you can find it, and the more data the better,” says Valerie Steeves, a professor in the department of criminology at the University of Ottawa and principal investigator of the eQuality project.

Because AI and ML tools rely on data, admins must ensure they’re building in student data protections to use this technology ethically. “AI that’s rolling out now always comes with a price tag, and the price tag is your students’ data,” Steeves says.

KEEP READING: Data analytics shows the impact of educational technology.

Do School Leaders Account for AI Tech’s Bias?

Another ethical consideration is algorithmic bias in AI and ML technologies. When purchasing these solutions, it’s important to remember that these programs are operating off data sets that frequently contain bias.

“There’s a lot of bias involved in applying some of these tools,” singh says. “A lot of these tools are made by specific people and with specific populations in mind. At a basic level, there’s racial, gender, sexual orientation differences — there’s a lot of different kinds of people — and a lot of these technologies either leave them out or include them in ways that are really harmful.”

While the creators of these tools typically aren’t intending to cause harm, the biases built into the data sets can discriminate against certain student populations.

Valerie Steeves
AI that’s rolling out now always comes with a price tag, and the price tag is your students’ data.”

Valerie Steeves Principal Investigator, The eQuality Project

“It creates a system where biases can play out in in ways that are rampant, and it becomes ever more difficult to pull them back because the bias and the discriminatory use of the data is built into the algorithm,” Steeves says.

One way to account for this bias is to acknowledge it. Teaching students to interact with AI should include lessons about how it was created and where these biases may appear.

What Are Beneficial Uses of AI in Education?

The necessary ethical considerations shouldn’t dissuade school leaders from using AI in education entirely. Teaching students to interact with this technology will set them up for success in higher education and future careers. There are also safe ways to use AI.

“A lot of the context in which algorithms and AI and machine learning are useful is when you’re looking at a large corpus of data and trying to make sense of it,” singh says. “Using algorithms and AI to answer a specific question can maybe give you a clue as to what the larger context might be. In that educational context, I think it’s a useful tool.”

When students are inputting data, instead of being the subjects from whom data is extracted, AI can be extremely beneficial.

AI is most useful when “no data is collected from the kids, and the kids are not embedded into some kind of surveillance system,” Steeves says. “AI is just helping them facilitate their learning and their modeling of the world around them.”

DIVE DEEPER: Learn how to use artificial intelligence in K–12 education.

HQuality Video/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT