URI to host free workshops for educators on impact of AI on K-12 education

July 22-24 programs geared to teachers and administrators

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 20, 2024 – Artificial intelligence is quickly reshaping education, especially for students, teachers and administrators in kindergarten through high school.

A recent poll by the Walton Family Foundation found that use of AI among teachers and students has rapidly risen in the last year. In K-12, the number of teachers who say they are familiar with ChatGPT, the generative AI chatbot, has grown from 55% to 79%. Among students, it’s risen from 37% to 75%. Usage has also grown with nearly half of teachers and students saying they use ChatGPT at least weekly.

To help local K-12 educators prepare for this paradigm shift, the University of Rhode Island is partnering with local education groups to provide a series of professional development workshops on AI for teachers and administrators. Workshops will be held July 22-23 for teachers and July 24 for administrators in the Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering on the Kingston Campus. More than 100 teachers and 50 administrators have already registered for the free workshops. For more information or to register, go to the event webpage.

“Just a year and a half ago, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But now almost all educators are aware of AI and almost all of their students are using it. And it’s dramatically changing how they teach,” said Victor Fay-Wolfe, URI professor of computer science. “The impacts have been on two sides for educators – how they can use it in their own professional development and delivery of education and how they teach their students to use it effectively and responsibly.” 

The AI workshops – which are being organized by Fay-Wolfe and Jessica Barrett, URI’s K-12 computer science program manager, along with Rhode Island’s statewide CS4RI initiative, R.I. Society of Technology Educators (RISTE) and R.I. Computer Science Teachers Association – have grown, in part, out of the Computer Science Department’s extensive work in K-12 computer science education and teacher training. The initiatives have built a large network of educators, who asked for guidance and education in AI.

The all-day workshops – 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. – are geared to educators who have differing levels of knowledge and experience with AI tools. The workshops for teachers will include an introduction to AI; its capabilities and limitations; and concerns such as data privacy, student cheating, and assessing student learning – along with providing teachers a chance to experiment with AI tools, including building lesson plans, said Barrett. For administrators, workshops will include an overview of AI along with sessions on policy development and advocacy to communicate the need for AI integration in their school districts. 

“The workshops will provide a nice introduction and foundation for all educators regardless of their experience,” said Barrett. “It’s meant to be a first step for a lot of educators. We are planning future workshops for professional development and to enable educators to form district teams and put what they’ve learned into practice for the benefit of all educators, students, and other stakeholders in the district.”

The workshops will be led by Vanessa Miller, technology integration coach in the Narragansett School District and member of RISTE and the Computer Science Teachers Association, and will feature hands-on sessions and panels that include URI faculty and students. 

“We thought it was important that the educators heard from students so they understand that students are already using AI and want to learn about it,” said Fay-Wolfe. “I think there’s a little bit of naivete that students aren’t using AI as extensively as they are.”

The AI in K-12 Education program is the newest initiative in the URI Computer Science Department’s work to bolster teacher training, develop standards and provide guidance for computer science education in Rhode Island. 

Through the state’s CS4RI program, started by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo in 2016, URI has trained more than 2,000 Rhode Island school teachers to deliver computer science education at their schools. Also, more than 2,000 high school students have earned college credits in computer science through concurrent enrollment in the last seven years. 

As members of the CS4RI core team, Barrett and Fay-Wolfe have also helped develop state standards for computer science education, and Fay-Wolfe helped secure a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2019 that provided funding for 20 Rhode Island high schools to establish or enhance computer science pathways.

“Our primary role is training teachers,” said Fay-Wolfe. “That’s what we’re doing this summer, training teachers and educators in AI. We’ve been training teachers in computer science for seven years now.”