ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — While kids are soaking up the final days of summer, stateline teachers are studying up on artificial intelligence.

“As they enter the workforce, AI is going to be a part of their lives,” said Susan Uram, director of educational technology at Rockford Public Schools 205. “We’re going to do them a disservice if we pretend like it’s not there.”

Uram said that this school year is the start of a new era in education, entering uncharted territory for teachers who are often filled with answers but are now left with more questions, all thanks to artificial intelligence.

“If we can leverage how we’re teaching and how we’re using these devices, they can open up a whole new world,” Uram said.

RPS 205 is the largest district in the stateline. After 18 years in the classroom, Uram is back where she started, in the summer course showing teachers a new tool.

“It can be used for good, it can be used for bad, and so we can’t assume kids see both sides of that,” Uram said. “We have a responsibility to help kids see that, but it’s not an easy thing, is it?”

Recent data shows that 61% of Americans polled believe that AI poses a risk to humanity. Twenty-two percent disagreed while the remaining 17% were unsure.

“There was this question mark from teachers about, ‘should kids be using this? How should they be using this? What’s going on? Is it cheating,'” Uram said.

“You know the student, you know their voice, and a lot of it I think is going to come to reimagining what these assignments are. Which, yes, it’s more work, but I’m sure math teachers had to adjust their curriculum when the calculator was invented.”

The summer course was about plagiarism. Could students really be getting away with turning in work that is not their own? How easy is it?

A ChatGPT search on “what would a high school sophomore write in a book review about ‘The Great Gatsby’ and its most important lesson throughout the book?” led to a five-paragraph essay in less than a minute.

A different search of “what would a freshman in high school write about ‘Animal Farm’ and the overall theme of the book?” led to another five-paragraph essay in no time. All that was left to do was to turn in the assignment and ask this decorated educator if any were written by a real person.

“I think it would be hard for me to tell, but one of the red flags I have right off the bat is some of the complex sentences,” Uram said. “It makes me pause for a minute to kind of think about, ‘what do I know about you as a writer and a learner?’ Given some of the structure of the paragraphs, and the ‘In conclusion….’ I tend to think that both have an element of AI in them.”

Despite the papers being flagged, Uram said that she does not view what was done as cheating, but rather a teachable moment.

“Were they trying to get out of it? Okay, I could see that, but why? Was it just a matter of time, or was it a lack of understanding,” she said. “We as teachers will change how we’re setting up some of these assignments to AI proof them.”

Educators are rewriting the rulebooks on the fly. A new technology with somewhat limitless capabilities causing teachers to think deeper, forcing their students to do the same.

“What is entailed in proper use is critical thinking, questioning, and really getting to the idea of discerning about the information being put in front of you,” Uram said. “I think the foundational skills are ones we were teaching kids long before AI. Now it’s just giving them an even more robust platform to put that to the test.”

RPS is set to return to the classroom on August 31.