The nation’s largest school district has had a change of heart when it comes to artificial intelligence.
New York City public schools was the most prominent school district in the country to ban ChatGPT, an AI-powered writing tool that can churn out an essay on Shakespeare’s Macbeth or a sonnet on birds that can sound uncannily like something a human produced.
Citing concerns about student cheating, the district blocked the tool shortly after it was released late last year and started being used by students and teachers. It placed ChatGPT on a list of restricted websites that also includes Netflix, Roblox, and YouTube. Other large districts, including Los Angeles, also blocked the site.
But last week, New York City’s chancellor, David C. Banks, said the district had been “caught off guard” initially by the technology. Now, he’s encouraging schools to use ChatGPT and other AI tools to help students explore the technology, including its potential, drawbacks, and impact on society.
“The knee-jerk fear and risk overlooked the potential of generative AI to support students and teachers, as well as the reality that our students are participating in and will work in a world where understanding generative AI is crucial,” Banks wrote in a first-person piece published May 18 by Chalkbeat New York. “Like many others, we had much to learn about the promise and perils of AI in our schools and communities. We have embarked on this journey and are eager to proceed hand-in-hand with our community—knowing that other districts will be looking to New York City schools for guidance.”
Banks and his team saw how some New York City teachers at a Queens middle school used ChatGPT to debate the ethical implications of AI and to investigate possible pitfalls, including researching the accuracy of the tool’s responses. Teachers at the school also used the tool for lesson planning.
The district now plans to offer teachers support in helping their students explore ChatGPT and other AI tools, Banks wrote.
It is not clear if the district will continue to restrict ChatGPT in some form. Education Week sought clarification in an email to the New York City department of education but has not received a response as of press time.
‘I can help you use these tools’
The district’s plan to encourage the use of ChatGPT as an AI teaching tool is a welcome change from an all-out ban, said Leigh Ann DeLyser, the executive director and co-founder of CSforAll, a nonprofit that seeks to promote computer science education.
Seeing how the technology could be used effectively in one of its schools gave the system’s leaders confidence that they could “support less technologically inclined teachers to roll this out in a way that doesn’t hurt kids’ learning,” DeLyser said.
Computer science educators elsewhere have made the same case to their leadership, she added. “We’re seeing computer science teachers across the country stand up as they’ve done for decades now, and say, ‘I can help you use these tools,’” she said.