Future of Work

3 Strategies for Helping Students Navigate the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

By Mark Lieberman — June 27, 2022 3 min read
Kids Coding In School
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Imagine a stuffed animal that can record children and transmit the recording to their parents. If the child is getting bullied at school, the parent will find out.

But is it ethical to record one’s own child without their knowledge or consent? What about other people’s children? Teachers? Does it matter how old the children are?

Eamon Marchant, a STEM teacher and technology coordinator at Whitney High School in Cerritos, Calif., presents quandaries like this to his students all the time.

“That’s the whole period, if not a couple periods, taken up by their discussions,” Marchant said June 27 during a virtual panel discussion that was part of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference.

Marchant is one of more than 1,500 educators participating in ISTE’s A.I. Explorations program, which provides educators and students with tools to develop AI-related projects and learn about the increasingly complex role of artificial intelligence in society. The June 27 panel focused on the importance of training students to look at AI through the lens of equity and ethics.

Here are a few ways educators suggest doing that: Get educated on the prevalence of A.I.—and biases within it

To some, artificial intelligence feels like a foreign concept, or science fiction. But in reality, panelists said, it’s already everywhere, from algorithms that suggest television shows and music, to search engines that surface Internet content.

Biases are quite prevalent within AI as well. Women using the Apple Credit Card were offered smaller credit line increases than men with comparable credit scores; Twitter’s image cropping tool favored white faces over Black ones, facial recognition software used for school security misidentifies Black and Asian faces far more often than White ones. For further reading on this subject, panelist Molly Dettmann, a teacher and librarian at Norman Public Schools in Oklahoma, recommends reading Safiya Umoja Noble’s book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism.

Students can be teachers, too

Dettmann uses Jamboard to show students examples of online misinformation, like deepfake videos that rigorously transpose one person’s face with another person’s voice. Then she asks them to bring up their own examples.

“They found all types of things I never even thought about that I now reuse in other lessons,” she said.

This approach works well for students who prefer to generate their own learning experiences rather than having teachers lead their own approach, said Noora Aabed, a recent high school graduate who provided the panel with a student perspective.

“Even if a teacher did tell me what to do, I would probably not listen,” she said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean teachers should not be leading lessons, Aabed said. During her time with the STEM Impressionists program for Black and brown students, she watched as a teacher with no coding experience led several seminars on coding.

“This technology is growing or changing, and that means learning isn’t only for the students,” Aabed said. “Your frame of reference won’t be enough to service future generations.”

See Also

Experts think artificial intelligence could help people do all sorts of things over the next couple of decades: power self-driving cars, cure cancer, and yes, transform K-12 education.
Experts think artificial intelligence could help people do all sorts of things over the next couple of decades: power self-driving cars, cure cancer, and yes, transform K-12 education.

Start early teaching students how to use AI ethically

Students don’t need to know the meaning of the word ethics to start absorbing the concept as it relates to technology, said Pattie Morales, technology innovation specialist at the private Indian Community School in Franklin, Wis. She led a second-grade class project to create a chatbot that can distinguish between kind and mean comments online.

Incorporating artificial intelligence into other classes can be a savvy way to infuse students’ learning experiences with the tools they’ll need to navigate today’s high-tech world.

Marchant said he often wonders how much of his writing is his own, thanks to auto-complete tools that finish his sentences for him. That kind of question would fit well in an English or social studies class, he said.

Ultimately, he said, educating students on the ethics of artificial intelligence is valuable because “no matter where they are in the computer science pipeline, using it or making it, they need to be able to make their own decisions about how to use it.”

Panelists also recommended checking out resources from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, the News Literacy Project, Civic Online Reasoning, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

ISTE registrants can watch the full recorded session.


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