As some schools scramble to determine how and how much they will allow students to use artificial intelligence in classrooms, results of a new national survey indicates significant numbers of home educators are embracing ChatGPT.

An online survey by the curricula vendor Age of Learning found that 44% of home-school educators report using ChatGPT, compared to 34% of classroom educators surveyed.

Erik Hanson, president of the Utah Home Education Association, said the survey findings were not particularly surprising.

“One thing I think home-schooling parents typically have in common is the ability to be comfortable with things that are outside the norm, outside of dogmatic thinking in general. They’re typically people who think independently. They don’t need authority to, you know, bless or grant them the permission to move forward with something,” Hanson said.

Karyn Tripp, a home educator in Cedar Hills, said as she stopped to consider how she and her children use AI in teaching and learning, it was somewhat surprising how often they utilize it.

The Tripps’ four children range in age from 9 to 17, so she frequently relies on AI to differentiate her instruction.

“I’m realizing that I’m using it more than I recognized,” said Tripp, who was a classroom teacher until the birth of her first child, soon to be 18 and now a first-year college student.

Tripp said AI is a helpful tool for lesson planning. While preparing to teach world history to her 16-year-old daughter this fall, she asked ChatGPT “‘OK, give me an outline using literature and books how we can cover world history this year for an 11th grader’ and it spits out a full outline and gives me books, recommendations and topics. So that’s a fun way to just sort of start planning.”

She also queries discussion topics on books she assigns her children/students to read.

“It can help me just kind of come up with some things when my brain is not coming up with enough,” said Tripp, who writes a home-schooling blog and co-hosts a podcast “Called to Homeschool.”

The Tripp children have used adaptive learning platforms that tailor instruction according to how they answer questions.

“For math, for instance, or reading, if they answer a question and they get it wrong, it’ll know to kind of scale back or teach more to that topic. If they get it right, it knows that they can advance again. So it’s kind of kind of a cool thing that I didn’t really think about the fact that it was artificial artificial intelligence, but it definitely is,” she said.

They use Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, for math and spelling games or to read audio books.

Alexa also has prompts for occasional dance or movement breaks, Tripp said.

“Those are some fun ways to just break things up a little bit,” she said.

AI shake-up

Hanson, who works for a software development company, said the use of AI is growing and its impact will be far-reaching.

“I don’t think people realize just the severe impact that AI is about to have on the world. It’s going to shake things up quite a bit,” he said, explaining it will displace workers in many industries.

For example, a Portland radio station recently announced that it has used voice cloning software and AI to create “AI Ashley,” which occasionally takes over the duties of human DJ “Ashley Z,” Hanson said.

Among the 253 home educators and 192 classroom teachers surveyed, more than two-thirds — 68% and 69%, respectively — said ChatGPT will prepare children for technology-based careers.

The home educators surveyed said they are most likely to allow their children to use ChatGPT for technology and writing courses.

The survey also showed that on average, home-school educators would allow their children to begin using ChatGPT for educational purposes at age 11. 

“One of the biggest issues is you have to be mature enough and conceptually old enough. to understand the concept of what it is. Otherwise, it could train kids if they’re too young, to do the thinking for them so they don’t learn how to think,” Hanson said.

Those concerns were echoed in the survey results. Home-school teachers’ top concerns with AI were that students will be too dependent on technology, lose critical thinking skills and have less human interaction. 

Despite those worries, the survey found that more than a quarter of home-school educators said they have used ChatGPT to help their children complete their homework.

Millie Tripp, 9, reacts to receiving a good grade on her math work at her home in Cedar Hills on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Across the country, some school districts have blocked the site or banned its use amid concerns over cheating or that the tool doesn’t help build critical thinking skills.

The survey found that while widespread use of AI is relatively new, 1 in 10 classroom teachers reported they have caught students cheating using ChatGPT.

Fifty-seven percent of school teachers surveyed said they believe ChatGPT may be helpful for students who have special needs to help make learning more accessible.

State standards

Even before widespread availability of ChatGPT, the study and use of AI had been integrated into the Utah State Board of Education’s computer science and digital literacy standards.

For example, the state standards for computer science in grades 9-12 calls for instruction on how AI drives many software systems. It also states that students should know how to “implement an algorithm that uses artificial intelligence to overcome a simple challenge.”

State standards outline essential knowledge, concepts and skills to be mastered at each grade level or within a critical content area.

The board has not developed a model policy regarding the use of technology such as ChatGPT, leaving those decisions to local elected school boards or charter school boards, said State School Board spokesperson Kelsey James.

Sarah Young, the board’s chief of staff, said work is underway on a state plan for AI in K-12 schools.

Meantime, The AI Frontier, a self-paced online training course, is available to Utah educators at no cost. The course, developed by the Utah Education and Telehealth Network, helps familiarize teachers with different types of artificial intelligence, how it is used, and the ethical challenges and dilemmas of AI in education. It also covers how AI changes teaching and learning, and instructs teachers to design activities and assessments.

UETN’s Jami Gardner, who helped develop the instructional modules, said since the debut of AI text generators, many educators have been seeking training on how best to incorporate the rapidly evolving technology into their teaching practice and student learning.

“We recognize that teachers want to do what’s right. They want to be able to support students in learning a new technology and being innovative with a new technology. They also want to understand what are the concerns in using this type of technology in their classroom,” she said.

Some 250 educators have enrolled in the course since it was launched in May.

“I think teachers want to know what’s available in supporting their practice. Some are definitely innovative teachers who are wanting to use this in their classroom and find new ways and other teachers are just more curious about what it is and what they should be aware of and also maybe tiptoeing into ways that it can improve their practice,” said Gardner, UETN’s associate director of marketing and public relations.

Karyn Tripp logs onto the CTCMath program as her daughter, Millie, 9, plays with the family dog at their home in Cedar Hills on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Correction: An earlier version of this story attributed the poll to Homeschool+. The company is Age of Learning. Homeschool+ is one of its products.