ChatGPT & Generative AI

A Stoplight Model for Guiding Student AI Usage

Giving students guidelines for AI use on assignments—via a green, yellow, or red light—provides clarity around this powerful technology.

November 9, 2023
Dizzle52 / Getty Images

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionize the way we teach and learn. However, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s crucial for us as educators to establish clear guidelines for students on when and where AI can be used in the classroom. This ensures that the technology serves as an aid to learning, rather than a crutch or a tool of academic dishonesty.

As teachers returned to school with an eagerness to incorporate AI into their instruction, our coaching team began helping them to develop clear guidelines for students on when it’s appropriate to use AI and when it is not. We believe that every summative assignment should include AI guidelines as part of the instructions, guidelines, and rubrics that students are already given.

To make it easy and rememberable, we condensed these guidelines into three actionable options: red light, yellow light, green light

Red Light: AI Usage Is Not Permitted in This Activity

This option is straightforward and leaves no room for interpretation. It is particularly useful for assessments or activities where the primary goal is to evaluate individual student understanding and skills. By explicitly stating that AI collaboration is not allowed, educators can maintain the integrity of the assessment process.

For assignments that fall under the “red light” category, think of traditional quizzes, exams, or short-answer questions that are designed to assess individual knowledge and skills. These are activities where the primary goal is to evaluate each student’s understanding of the material. Is the activity designed to assess individual understanding? Is it a formative assessment where collaboration could skew the results?

It’s essential to explain the rationale behind this restriction. Students are more likely to comply with rules when they understand the reasoning behind them. In these cases, teachers can have conversations with students about the importance of individual assessment. They can explain how this type of evaluation helps identify areas where improvement is needed and why academic honesty is a skill that will serve them well throughout their educational journey and beyond. Providing context helps students see the bigger picture and appreciate the importance of adhering to guidelines.

Providing clarity is especially important when students are working independently from home. When students are not physically present in the classroom, it can be tempting for them to seek AI assistance when they shouldn’t. Thus, it becomes paramount for educators to set clear expectations about when AI collaboration is permitted and when it is not. Just as teachers have guidelines for plagiarism, citing sources, etc., so can they have guidelines around AI use.

While it’s true that some students may not always adhere to the guidelines when working from home, it’s crucial to recognize that teaching responsible AI usage is a valuable educational opportunity. Instead of simply restricting AI access, we should aim to empower students with the knowledge and understanding they need to make responsible choices.

Yellow Light: permission from teacher required before using AI

This option offers a balanced approach, allowing for the possibility of AI usage while maintaining a level of oversight. The “yellow light” option is particularly useful for long-term projects that require extensive research, group activities where individual contributions are part of a collective grade, or case studies that could benefit from multiple perspectives. 

Incorporating AI tools into the classroom, such as, Diffit, and Perplexity, can enhance the learning experience in these scenarios. These technologies offer valuable resources that, when used with guidance and permission, can amplify students’ abilities to explore, learn, and contribute collectively. It is in these nuanced situations that the “yellow light” approach shines, facilitating the responsible integration of AI into the learning process, promoting teamwork, and fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

When students ask for permission to use AI, it opens the door for a meaningful dialogue. Teachers can ask students to articulate what they hope to achieve with the aid of AI and how it aligns with the objectives of the activity. This conversation also provides an opportunity to discuss the ethical considerations of using AI, such as the importance of citing sources when incorporating external content. By requiring permission, educators can ensure that students have a clear understanding of the activity’s objectives and how AI can appropriately aid in achieving them.

Green light: Students are encouraged to use AI software

This option is the most open, encouraging students to explore the capabilities of AI in their learning journey. Assignments that are ideal for the “green light” option include creative writing tasks where AI can serve as a brainstorming tool, research projects that involve gathering and analyzing large sets of data, or activities that encourage innovation, such as coding projects or design tasks. 

However, the openness of this option necessitates a robust framework for ethical usage and academic integrity. Before diving in, students are required to discuss their planned approach with the teacher. This ensures that the use of AI complements rather than replaces human effort. The conversation also serves as a checkpoint for discussing how to properly indicate AI collaboration in their work and reinforcing the importance of transparency and ethical conduct.

Managing the “green light” option when dealing with a large number of students will certainly require planning. One strategy that teachers can employ to effectively oversee this open approach is to establish online discussion forums or collaboration spaces where students can share their plans for integrating AI into their work. These platforms can provide students with a space to post their ideas, seek feedback from both peers and the teacher, and foster a sense of collaboration.

Conversations and Considerations

These guidelines serve as a framework for teachers when assigning work. They are communicated explicitly at the outset of any assignment or activity where AI collaboration could be a factor. The advance notice is crucial; students are more likely to adhere to rules when they are aware of them beforehand and understand the reasoning behind them.

The conversation between educator and student during the “permission phase” of the yellow and green light options is invaluable. It serves not just as a checkpoint but as a teachable moment, helping students learn the nuances of academic integrity and ethical technology usage.

A valuable strategy to manage a full roster of students is to schedule regular check-in sessions, either individually or in small groups. During these sessions, teachers can discuss each student’s AI usage plan, offer personalized guidance, and ensure that ethical standards are upheld. 

The integration of AI in education is not a matter of if but when. As educators, we have the responsibility to guide our students in navigating this new landscape ethically and effectively. By being clear about the guidelines for AI usage in classroom activities, we can foster an environment that encourages innovation while maintaining academic integrity.

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  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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