AI in schools: Volusia County students participate in artificial intelligence program

The University of Florida’s AI Foundations curriculum is being used in 12 Florida school districts this school year.

Daytona Beach News-Journal | By Mary Ellen Ritter | September 25, 2023

Some Florida school districts are teaching students about artificial intelligence, and Volusia County Schools is one of them.

The University of Florida is partnering with high schools across the state to educate youth on the skills required for an AI-enabled workforce.

The AI Foundations curriculum offers four courses over three years of instruction, according to UF News. The curriculum starts by teaching students how to identify and locate AI, learn how it can be applied across different fields and how to build AI applications. Each course gets progressively more difficult. 

“The artificial intelligence program is designed to be part of ‘AI for All,’ where students start to understand and apply the basics of artificial intelligence in order to understand what it is and also what it is not, to better understand the limits and constraints of AI,” Nancy Ruzycki, a professor at UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and one of AI Foundations’ architects, said in an email. 

“This builds AI literacy in students. Students will also understand the positive and negative impacts of AI on the world around them. These students will become the users, designers and dashboard operators who will engage with AI as part of their career pathway,” she continued. 

AI in Volusia County Schools

Christina Fernandez at Pine Ridge High School and Peter Shelton at University High School are teaching the first course of the AI Foundations curriculum: Artificial Intelligence in the World.

The course content is aligned with the high-level Microsoft Azure AI-900 certification and allows students to learn the different ways in which AI is used and applied in the Azure cloud platform, according to Ruzycki.

“In this course, students will learn how we define intelligence in computers, how intelligence is designed and programmed into computers, how data can be brought into computers through the use of sensors and external devices and used by the computer to create intelligence and decision making,” Ruzycki wrote in an email to The News-Journal. “Students also learned about the main models computers use to build intelligence and make decisions and how they are used in different industries. Additionally, students will learn about ethics and social and environmental issues (benefits and risks) associated with artificial intelligence.” 

About 50 students from each high school participate in the program. Artificial Intelligence in the World is a CTE class with no prerequisites. It was filled based on student interest. 

“Because this is our first year, we’re trying to allow students as many opportunities to take it as possible, so it was kind of on an open basis for who could sign up for the class,” said Loren Conlan, Volusia County Schools’ specialist in AI. “Usually, these are the students that have other interests with either IT or cyber security or engineering.” 

The first course will take students the full school year to complete, according to Conlan, and the second course will be implemented in August.

“As long as UF continues to offer their expertise in it, then we will continue to follow along with them,” Conlan said.

Other Florida school districts are also implementing either the full or partial AI Foundations program in their curriculum: Alachua; Palm Beach; Miami-Dade; Orange; Osceola; Seminole; Pinellas; Pasco; Hillsborough; Florida Virtual School; and Putnam.

Outside of AI Foundations, where do Volusia schools stand with AI? 

The district does not have expectations for how teachers use AI, according to Gabriel Berrio, assistant superintendent of High School Curriculum and Instruction for Volusia County Schools.

However, Matt Kuhn, the district’s chief technology officer, said AI can be used to create an adaptive experience that allows students to learn at their own pace. It can track a student’s progress and adjust as needed, note areas that need improvement, and provide custom support to create a personalized learning environment. 

“This can help students learn at their own pace and avoid getting bored or frustrated,” Kuhn said in an email. 

AI can also provide virtual tutors to assist students and help answer questions, analyze student data by identifying trends and patterns to improve instruction, and reduce teacher workloads by grading simple assignments and creating basic lesson plans, according to Kuhn. 

Privacy concerns with AI

Despite the benefits, there are a number of privacy concerns that must be resolved before all teachers and students can actively begin using the tool, according to Kuhn.   

But Volusia County Schools has already identified key concerns regarding student data privacy and security that could result from using AI in schools, Kuhn said. The district is addressing these concerns by researching how students will use AI and waiting for AI providers to share better student data privacy protection systems and information. 

The district is concerned that widely incorporating AI in schools could result in unintentional data exposure. 

“When AI models are trained on student data, there is a risk that sensitive or personally identifiable information could be inadvertently exposed,” Kuhn said in an email. “This could happen if the data is not properly anonymized or if the model is not secure.”

He said younger students, especially, may be more vulnerable to privacy threats because “they may not fully understand the risks involved.” 

And some AI tools – like ones that track student behavior or performance – may be more likely to pose privacy risks because they collect more sensitive data.

To improve their security, students will need to learn the importance of data privacy and be taught how to protect their own data, according to Kuhn, because if a student’s data does get collected, there is a potential it could be sold to a third party or used by unauthorized individuals or organizations for identity theft or marketing purposes. 

“The data should be stored securely and access to it should be restricted to authorized individuals,” Kuhn said in an email.

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