Classroom Technology

Meet ‘Stretch,’ a New Chatbot Just for Schools

By Alyson Klein — June 26, 2023 2 min read
Illustration of woman using AI on phone.
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Get ready for “Stretch,” a chatbot being designed specifically for K-12 educators.

The chatbot is the brainchild of the newly combined professional development mega organization created by the merger of the International Society for Technology in Education and ASCD.

The nonprofit organization has worked with Google and Open AI (the team behind ChatGPT) to create its very own chatbot, informed by the same kind of large language models that power ChatGPT, persona bots, and other artificial intelligence tools. The Stretch prototype is currently being tested by a select group of people and is not yet available for public use.

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But Stretch will have one very different feature than most other chatbots. Instead of absorbing information from the entire internet to train its artificially intelligent brain, Stretch is only learning on materials that have been developed or vetted by ISTE and ASCD. Eventually, the tool may include information from other education and tech organizations that ISTE partners with.

If Stretch is asked a question about, say, approaches to social-and-emotional learning, it will only be able to draw on research, articles, and other information that has already been examined by ISTE and any other participating organizations.

That will enable Stretch to avoid the pitfalls of ChatGPT and similar chatbots, which often spit out inaccurate or outdated information, said Richard Culatta, ISTE’s CEO, during a roundtable discussion and demonstration with reporters here. (For instance, a chatbot mimicking President Barack Obama inaccurately parroted his administration’s critics as his own views when talking to a reporter about the president’s record on K-12 education).

What’s more, unlike other large language models, Stretch cites its sources, giving it another layer of accountability, Culatta said. And if it’s asked about something outside of its areas of expertise, it will tell users it can’t help with the question, instead of making something up, a characteristic of most chatbots that pull information from the entire internet.

A key goal of Stretch: “In terms of the reliability of information, it’s rock solid,” said Joseph South, the chief innovation officer at ISTE.

ISTE is still developing Stretch and hopes to give a wider group of educators a chance to use the tool soon. Eventually, Stretch may be used to help educators with research and professional development.

Stretch is one of the first so-called “walled garden AI” tools trained on a limited, carefully curated pool of information to serve a specific community, in education or any area, Culatta said.

“I do think you will see this rolling out in other sectors, but I think we’re among the first to do it,” Culatta said. “I hope this is a cool tool. But the real value is to say, hey, the future of AI, especially in learning, is to create these specialized tools where we can control exactly what the content is.”

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A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2023 edition of Education Week as Meet ‘Stretch,’ a New Chatbot Just for Schools

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