ChatGPT: Houston-area school districts weigh in on AI chatbot in education

Local school districts are weighing in on a new artificial intelligence tool that already has more than 100 million users.

Schools have an interesting choice. They can ban ChatGPT or embrace it.

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While there’s been a lot of articles written about how it can help students cheat, what some may be surprised to learn is how it can be a really helpful tool for both students and teachers. 

Imagine you teach high school physics.  You ask ChatGPT to write a ten question quiz on voltage and current. 

"I’d say six out of the ten questions were excellent. They’d be usable for me on a test or quiz," said Chris Nilsson, Director of Technology for Fort Bend ISD. 

 A time saver for sure.  Nilsson used to be in the classroom every day, but he’s now the Director of Technology for the more than 80,000 student school district.

"The policy or the platform we’ve taken today is we want ChatGPT to be available for all of our staff to be able to use, experiment and become familiar with," he says.

For now, it’s blocked on district devices for students. 

"We have an academic integrity pledge that we have in the district that our high school students start every year off with signing," said Melissa Hubbard, Director of Teaching and Learning at Fort Bend ISD.

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Students everywhere are taught to think and write critically, but when put to the test, the free language tool can turn out human-sounding essays on just about any topic and in any style in just seconds. 

"On the one hand, we don’t want our students to skip the step of learning the content and learning to think and write about content, but on the other hand it’s like a really useful and helpful tool.  It actually can be great at helping you understand content," said Peter Salib, Assistant Professor of Law at University of Houston. 

The chatbot doesn’t always score an "A."  It doesn’t know anything past 2021, and it can and will get things wrong.

"The biggest red flags are not knowing you’re dealing with artificial intelligence, that you’re not dealing with humans and fact checkers," said tech columnist Jennifer Jolly. 

Consumer tech journalist Jennifer Jolly says there are a few detection tools out there, but she hasn’t found a perfect way to catch AI-generated material yet. 

"It’s hitting the general public before the general public is really ready to use it responsibly," Jolly said.

Back in Fort Bend ISD, the district wants to educate the teachers on how to detect AI-written papers rather than relying on apps.

"It won’t be long before someone releases an AI designed to avoid detection.  We need to be out in front of that.  That involves humans and teaching how to recognize AI and using it in the classroom," said Nilsson.

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For now, Nilsson hopes district employees can use ChatGPT to their advantage to focus more on the human side of teaching. 

"We moved very quickly to unblock it for staff, and I do think we’re on a path to opening up to student use within some parameters," he said.

After all, change is part of the human story, and ChatGPT may be just the beginning of new AI. 

FOX 26 reached out to several of the large school districts to ask about their ChatGPT policy.  Conroe, Cy Fair and Katy did not respond.

Houston ISD sent us a statement that read, "The district has not changed any existing policies or enacted any new policies related to ChatGPT. As of now, ChatGPT has not been blocked on the district's networks or devices."