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Will AI Chatbots Raise Digital Equity Concerns for Students?

Christen Martines | March 30, 2023, March 8, 2023, Brandon Paykamian

Some ed-tech experts say the need to close the digital divide will only grow more urgent as Internet-based artificial intelligence tools become commonplace in schools and universities.

The power of artificial intelligence chatbot tools like ChatGPT has K-12 and postsecondary educators both wary of them and looking for ways to incorporate them into curricula and lesson planning. But as AI chatbots inevitably become more ubiquitous in education, some educators and digital equity advocates are concerned the change could exacerbate disadvantages for students with limited or no access to broadband and devices at home.

According to Pete Just, executive director of the Indiana Chief Technology Officer’s Council and board member of the the ed-tech advocacy group Consortium for School Networking, student access to AI generative text technologies could be considered part of a larger national conversation around digital equity amid local, state and federal efforts to expand access to broadband and make devices available to students for digital learning. Rather than considering banning AI tools like ChatGPT as some schools and institutions have done, he said, educators should encourage the use of and access to AI chatbots as supplemental to enhance lessons.

He noted that AI tools like ChatGPT could prove helpful for students similar to AI tools for grading and lesson planning that have emerged in recent years, adding that some instructors across grade levels are now considering using it as a preliminary research tool to beat writer’s block on essay assignments, among other applications. He noted that the topic of the tool itself may even help generate classroom discussions on AI ethics in relevant courses as the tech industry and society at large explore the use of AI.

“We’re talking about a significant shift in resources available to educators and to students, much like the calculator was for math class, much like the Internet was,” he said. “The same kind of fears happened — ‘It’s going to allow kids to cheat.’ Kids have been cheating for a long time. … It’s a matter of how we as educators will respond to a change that’s happening in society, not just impacting assignments.

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