The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

AI: Advantageous or Amoral?

Teachers and Students Struggle to Cope with the Emergence of AI in the Classroom
Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

AI has become a valuable teaching tool and a deafening alarm bell for many of the teachers and students at Parker. Teachers are struggling to create assignments that prohibit cheating, developing AI related assignments that are intellectually valuable, and making sure that they have class time left over to teach their students the subject. Students have to cope with the influx in in-class essays and overuse of the same AI-related assignments. A conflict between students and teachers is emerging and fast. 

When the use of AI was introduced to teachers, the concerns were immediate. “Dan Greenstone, my colleague, started sounding the alarm, and it was very much an alarm. He was very worried about it. It was a cause for a lot of concern for him. And you know, I’d heard of AI forever, watched movies and such, but I never had considered it as like an academic tool per se,”  US history teacher and Student Government Faculty Advisor Jeanne Barr said. When AI was first introduced as a topic, Upper School History Teacher Dan Greenstone brought a group of colleagues together on Zoom to introduce the concept. “He started demonstrating like, ‘here’s a math problem’ and we all sat there at home or wherever we were watching this math problem get done. I was sort of like, ‘huh, wow, that could be a thing’ and then went about my business and didn’t really think about it anymore,” Barr said. 

Other teachers had a similar experience as well. “I heard about it from a colleague and then I registered on Chat GPT.  I think the first thing I asked was a homework question. So I would say that, like, at first, I was thinking that it was really a negative thing,” Upper School history teacher Susan Elliott said. Her first AI-related assignment was “a disaster,” but her recent ones have been going better. 

Though some of the Upper School teachers report being introduced to AI with alarm bells, the students encountered it in the opposite way. “I think I was just like reading the news and an article popped up and it was like, ‘hey, here’s the thing,’ and I saw the AI you know, people were like, messing with the AI. Sometimes it gave pretty decent responses. Sometimes it was interestingly wrong,” Grant Koh, Senior and CTC Head said. Though the moment of discovery might have been memorable for teachers, Koh discovered it on a random day and continued about his day without thinking much of it. 

Harry Lowitz, a senior and author of the AI resolution in student government, has grown increasingly frustrated by AI. This is not only because of its frequent incompetence, but also because of the consequences that come with acknowledging it. “We’ve been getting less essays because of it, which I’m finding frustrating. And one of the schools I’m applying to, they want a three to five page essay, and I’m not even sure I have one. And I think AI is sort of partially to blame for that because teachers just don’t want to assign that stuff anymore. And that’s frustrating.” he said. The conflict between students doing their work and teachers avoiding potential use of AI is growing in tension.

“I feel sort of like the ball’s in my court, but I don’t know if I have a racket,” Barr said, commenting on how she is dealing with the use of AI. When she realized that her students could be using AI, she started modifying her assignments to work around it. Barr had to modify an assignment that she had been doing for several years. “It’s comfortable for me, the students like it, and it’s a really great book, but then I realized like, oh, wow, you could completely do this with AI. Like there was nothing about the assignment that wasn’t just turnable. You could just press a button and then boom, you could just put my questions in, boom. And then that made me realize, okay, I can’t ever do that assignment again,” Barr said. 

Though it was too late in the year to change her assignment last year, she does plan to change it in the future. She didn’t notice anything that looked like it was AI generated in her students’ work, but she also takes into consideration the fact that they could have tricked her. “Now that I know that they can trick me, I can’t just keep doing what’s easy,” she said. Though she is constantly evolving her assignments, Barr now has to put extra effort into it this year, which also results in extra effort on the students’ part. This frustrates students. Koh, however, takes a slightly different view on the topic. “I don’t think I’ve had anyone who’s really overused it. I sort of understand that frustration,” he said. Ms. Elliot has also had to change some of her assignments to consider the usage of AI. Though she used to assign general homework questions to students to try and gauge their understanding of a topic, she now has to change them to comment on specific quotes in a book so that she knows they are not cheating. For example, instead of asking what the impact of the Boston Massacre was, she would say “the author called the Boston Massacre -quote- explain why they use these terms.” This was because “they have to actually go to the text and read it instead of just putting it into AI,” Elliot said. 

Another way teachers have accommodated for the use of AI in their classrooms is by assigning in-class essays. Elliot assigned in-class essays before she learned about AI, and continued to do so afterward. “I’ve always done in class essays,” she said. “I’m not going to do more or less in class essays. I’ll do the same amount.” Elliot assigns two in her junior classes, one in her freshman classes, and one in her sophomore classes. She is well known for assigning in-class essays, but many suspected that they had something to do with the use of AI.  Barr, however, is conflicted on the topic. “In the past, I would have said ‘okay, here’s a prompt provided at home. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.’ Now I’m like, if what I’m trying to get them to do is writing, having them write it at home opens that door [of using AI]. So since we’re talking paragraphs, why not have a write-in-class one, but then that’s monkeying with how much class I would have because 50 minutes goes like that when you’re a teacher. For a student it probably takes forever, but for me, it’s over and, I didn’t cover 10 things I wanted to say. So giving up my precious minutes of class time to have kids write? Because I’m scared they’re gonna cheat if they write at home? Like, that’s a big adjustment. That’s a big shift and it means I’m covering less material now.” 

Barr addresses the idea of the flipped classroom, where students do things like watch movies that would take six days to watch in class at home, leaving much more time to discuss it in class. The open door of AI usage, however, interferes with her plans. 

As far as in-class essays replacing out of school, take home papers, I think that’s totally unsustainable. And it gets bad for students that are not learning as much and also, it’s like, it’s a totally different skill. I think it’s a good skill, but it’s not the only skill for writing,” Lowitz said.  

Koh, however, takes a different view on it. “If you understand something, you should be able to write a page or two about it,” he said. Though he does agree that at-home writing is also a valuable skill, Koh hasn’t been assigned many in-class essays. In-class writing is not something that teachers or students necessarily want when the writing could have been outside of class, not only because it interferes with class time, but also because there is a lot of pressure put on the students. “When a kid gets backed into a corner for a whole host of reasons, they might make a bad choice. So minimizing that opportunity, minimizing that pressure, you know, where kids feel like they have to cheat, if the kids can do it themselves and feel confident in their own work, would they do it through AI? I guess the lazy ones would. The lazy ones are out there too. I don’t know. It’s such a conundrum,” Barr said. 

Lowitz decided to create a resolution in student government regarding the use of AI. The resolution recently passed through the students, and regards how teachers assign homework/assignments that would have been different if not for AI. Greenstone spoke in Lowitz’s class about AI, which is what prompted him to create the proposal. “I think [Greenstone’s] thinking about this in a really great way. But there were a couple of things that I was like, ‘oh, you know what, like, I feel like, I’d love to express this opinion that I think is pretty reasonable and shared among many of the students.’ I’m not trying to enforce my will over the teachers or anything. I’m just offering this and ideally having a lot of students who agree with me,” Lowitz said. 

A lot of students did agree with him. During Student Government, students were lined up behind the auditorium microphones to give their opinion on this resolution. Three  amendments were written, votes were taken, and there was a clear student opinion on the proposal. Very few people didn’t care, as the assignments students get in classes are a topic almost everyone has something to say about. “Now I, as a teacher, look at it like, that’s awesome. We hit a nerve. You know, the fact that there were 70 people getting up to make an amendment means that we hit a nerve, and people wanted to engage with that,” Barr said. 

Unlike past proposals, like the art credit and the bike rack proposals that didn’t affect over half of the student body, this one could affect everyone. One of the parts of the proposal that was probed by the students was the use of in-class essays. The argument is that essays that used to be taken home should not change to be time-restrictive in-class essays. “That is school kind of y’know, like, there is an element like yeah, you got to take the test in front of me, you got to do that. But does everything have to be a test?” Barr inquired. She doesn’t believe that everything has to be evaluated and graded for points but rather to assess the students’ understanding of the material. Teachers around the Upper School have been hearing about this resolution and making different points regarding its effect. 

“I feel like the students may have done a little bit of overreach as it stands now,” Elliot said. She hoped that the resolution would change in its final version but seems to have been disappointed. Unsure if she would change her curriculum, Elliot is close to confirming the belief that this resolution may not invoke any legitimate change. 

Barr, along with many other teachers, have hope for the future of AI. Though it may seem like a scary tool at first sight, there is so much potential that is waiting to be utilized. Barr, in particular, is excited about its potential. “Once we get past being afraid of what this is going to do to our thinking ability and so forth, we’re going to find ways of using that they’re going to be really common sense and helpful and enable us to go deeper, more quickly, more efficiently and get to more meaningful places with each other,” she said. 

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About the Contributor
Charlotte Paul
Charlotte Paul, Staff Writer
Charlotte Paul is a Staff Writer serving her first year on "The Weekly." Outside of "The Weekly," Charlotte loves to write and read poetry and books, play field hockey, swim, and play the flute. She is super enthusiastic and dedicated to what she commits to, and is looking forward to an amazing year!