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A Practical (evolving) Perspective on A.I., Part Three

At Bennett, we are always watching the effect of A.I. on education, and our understanding of what it means for students is always evolving. Our blog content is not meant to provide definitive answers as to how this technology will change education, but rather to join the conversation with respected educators. Likewise, the opinions expressed are those of the teacher being interviewed.

I recently spoke with Desiree Harmon, a seasoned educator and administrator in independent schools. She has a great perspective on AI and middle school students.

My favorite piece of her advice was:


It is important to remember that AI is a tool humans created; it is not a human being.


Desiree Harmon is the Director of Middle School at Friends Select School in Philadelphia. She has worked at FSS for 21 years and has held various roles, including Lower School Teacher, Director of Summer Sessions, and Middle School Dean. Desiree holds a Bachelor of Arts from Cabrini, where she double majored in Spanish and History, and a Master of Arts in Education from the University of Phoenix.  


Thoughts on AI for middle school:


What has been the impact of AI on today's middle school population, and what are its implications for future generations of middle schoolers?


That's a big question. Middle schoolers are so savvy when it comes to technology. They learn at such a fast pace because they have always lived with technology: cell phones and Apple watches. I get it; parents want to keep in touch with their students; however, that small piece of technology that they carry has such significant implications, and the onus is on the adults in the students’ lives to help them use technology appropriately. Teachers already know students are very computer savvy; we have to stay on our toes to stay on top of what is happening in middle school.


What are the positive and negative aspects of AI for students? Does AI offer learning opportunities?


There are a lot of positives to AI. One is that it can help students with research by asking AI questions to gather information. However, it cannot be the end; students must fact-check and use other resources to verify information. One negative of AI is that it is only sometimes accurate. Another positive of AI is that it can help students quickly access information from the internet, but they also must remember to credit AI as a source; students need to remember that they should only quote verbatim when crediting the source. AI should be used sparingly with academic writings; however, it can do adorable things like make a cute animal video that looks real and things like a puppy video that could put smiles on folks' faces. That is a good use of AI.


How are you supporting students as they engage with this emerging technology? How do you encourage them to use AI for "good" and assist them in detecting misinformation from AI?


We are very fortunate at FSS. Our middle schoolers take digital literacy courses to teach them how to maintain healthy social media boundaries. This is extremely important, as students in middle school are still growing and developing physically, emotionally, and mentally. Their brains are still developing, and students need the adults in their lives to help them with boundaries and limitations; as with anything, moderation is key. Phones, computers, and smartwatches are all tools. We have a collective responsibility to help students learn limits and boundaries.


Do you anticipate that AI will be integrated into the curriculum?


Not yet; we haven't proposed an AI policy either; that's not to say we won't. One thing I appreciate about working in a Quaker school is that there is a thoughtful process around curriculum and implementation. We take this seriously as we know there are good and bad parts to everything, and we have to go into it wide open when thinking about students and how AI could impact their education. It is important to note that AI has been effective in helping teachers manage their time by helping with emails and newsletters, as well as by helping to gain back some of the time teachers spend on lesson planning. These are great uses of AI that assist teachers, and I am here for that!


Have you seen AI impact students' engagement with social media?


I have seen students' engagement on social media with posts that have been created with AI. For the most part, they are adorable, using the technology for good. For example, they created a rainbow that looked like you could reach out and touch it or showed the delicate wings of a bumblebee. These are using the technology for good or for fun. Social media is an avenue where students need guardrails, and one of the cautions of AI is to make sure you are using a resource with a variety of data sources to avoid bias and discrimination. It is important to remember that AI is a tool humans created; it is not a human being.


How might parents think about this emerging technology in the context of supporting their middle school-age students?


Parents should consider AI cautiously like they view any other online vehicle. We are at the beginning stages of AI; many schools are creating AI policies as we learn about it. We have a responsibility to teach children the necessary tools to be good digital citizens and to be mindful of potential problems and issues. Technology is a wonderful tool and has many positive benefits. AI can show students how to improve their work instead of doing the job for students.

Thank you, Desiree.

By Erin Brady

Erin Brady wears several hats at Bennett as Co-Director of Private Client Services and as one of our Global Team Leads (GTLs). As a GTL, she supports a consultant team that works with families headed to the greater NYC area, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Canada, overseeing their casework and providing updates to our corporate and RMC clients. She also serves as Account Manager of one of Bennett’s largest financial services clients in New York.

Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.


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