Vail Mountain School students are leading the school’s conversation on artificial intelligence – Vail Daily

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Vail Mountain School has adopted a student-centered approach to developing AI literacy,
ethics and school policy. Here, the school’s student-led committee on AI presents to faculty on the technology.

Vail Mountain School/Courtesy Photo

As schools and education leaders explore how artificial intelligence will impact teaching and learning, Vail Mountain School is engaging students directly in the conversation.

The private K-12 school in East Vail recently established a student-led AI literacy committee, allowing students to actively help shape its approach to AI education.

“AI is going to keep growing; it’s not going away. So finding a good way to implement it into our school is beneficial for both teachers and students,” said Harrison Baumer, a 10th grader at Vail Mountain School and member of the group.

Declan Cunningham, another 10th grade member added that “having student voice involved is huge because the students know what they want with AI and then they can help the teachers who are making all the rules about it.”

Vail Mountain School first started looking into AI literacy as well as into the ethical engagement and policy considerations around the technology in 2022 as ChatGPT emerged.

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Then, the student-led committee was created after Kelly Enright, the school’s technology director, participated in an AI cohort with the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, also known as ATLIS.

“We knew that when ChatGPT entered the scene, we were going to need to adjust our teaching strategies at school and that this was going to require a collaborative approach,” Enright said. “After presenting the idea of a student committee to our Upper School, I was amazed at how this committee of students has really taken the initiative to use this technology to deepen teaching and learning.”

Through engaging with other schools, parents, peers, teachers and administrators, the student committee is working to understand the benefits and pitfalls of the technology as well as work to advise VMS on its AI policies going forward.

Bringing students in

Vail Mountain School’s student-led AI committee is exploring how AI can best be used by students and teachers.
Vail Mountain School/Courtesy Photo

Already students and teachers have begun to explore various types of artificial intelligence to help in the classroom.

Nyko Callas, a 10th grader at Vail Mountain School, said he saw AI being used, but also “saw there wasn’t much knowledge about AI in our school.”

“They didn’t know what things we could use AI for that were good. And I saw that they were just banning it and saying that it couldn’t be used, and I wanted to help find ways that could be helpful,” Callas added.

Owen Otto, a 10th grader and committee member, added that as their generation becomes more and more “indulged in the technology,” he was interested in “learning more about AI and learning how to use it properly will just help us learn better and try new different types of learning.”

Much of the group’s initial work has involved looking into how AI is used.

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This has included looking department to department, understanding that history and English classrooms might utilize it differently; talking with the school’s honor council about what acceptable uses of AI are as well as what the consequences should be for unintended use; and meeting with Eagle County School District’s technology department to discuss their work and understanding around schools’ use of AI.

Enright said the goal of all of this work is to “gain more momentum for both teacher use and student use to help with learning.”

As the group continues its work, “one of the hurdles we’re finding is just making sure we’re not compromising student data and privacy while accessing all of this,” Enright said, adding this includes vetting different AI tools to make sure this is prioritized.

Primarily, the students have been exploring different AI technologies like ChatGPT, Bing and Grammarly Go in the committee. Outside of this, they said they were recently encouraged to use ChatGPT in a history class.

“In our history class, we were doing a research essay, and we were allowed to use AI for one of our sources,” Otto said.

“We used ChatGPT for our first source and it really helped us get the main idea of the topic that we were studying,” Baumer said.

The students said this is just one example of how the technology can be used to aid their education.

“It can give you prompts or help you write an outline and just help give direction if you’re trying to write a paper or something along those lines,” Cunningham said.

Grant Iverson, another 10th grade member of the group, added that “after using AI, you can take those different prompts and information that you’re interested in and focus on those topics from primary sources.”

Iverson said he’s also seen how the technology can demonstrate different ways to look at the same problem as “asking it the same question in different ways can give you different answers.”

“I’ve been surprised with AI how everything it tells you is not always true. So you have to double-check your research to make sure everything you’re getting is actual facts,” Callas said.

There is also, Iverson suggested, a need for more education around AI in schools.

“Since AI is pretty much a new topic, I think some courses could be implemented on AI in the future,” Iverson said. “A lot of people in our school don’t even really know what this committee’s doing or that it’s even a thing. AI teaching could be implemented to educate kids on what’s a good way to use it and be effective with it.”

In addition to students using AI, Enright said that teachers are also using AI tools to help with lesson plans and enhance student learning. This includes exploring the use of things like ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing for research purposes as well as Grammarly Go and Quizlet Plus for educational purposes.

One thing Enright said she’s seen teachers explore is something called Sherpa, a tool that takes PDFs of texts and then asks students comprehension and prompting questions after they have read the text on their own.

“It’s a different way for students to respond rather than just a written response,” Enright said. “Teachers have really loved exploring that. We’ve had a few history teachers use it, and our middle school history and English teachers have really found it helpful. And so I think that’s been really, really great.”

Looking ahead, Vail Mountain School is hoping to continue refining its use of AI in education.

“Throughout this process, we have taken a look at our pedagogy and come at this challenge from the lens of what skills we want students to learn. From there, we are able to assess what AI tools students can use for other aspects of their learning and what tools will best accomplish this,” Enright said. “It is a balancing act where we want the learning to be at the forefront.”

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