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Artificial Intelligence in Education: Where Are the Laws?

Artificial Intelligence in Education: Where Are the Laws?

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By Dr. Shelley Pumphrey
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University

The future of artificial intelligence (AI) in education is not clear, but AI is just as fascinating and as open to Wild West lawlessness. Do we need laws and regulations to protect the citizens of the AI classroom? Will AI in the classroom involve a new Wild West in social and cultural behavior?

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Education laws aim to strike a balance between education and maintaining student safety, protecting individual constitutional rights, accommodating students with disabilities, and giving teachers job security and intellectual freedom. But what is still missing is the relationship between the laws related to education and AI. Policymakers will need to determine to what extent current laws and regulations can be applied to AI or if AI issues should relate to the specific industry such as education, health, transportation, etc.

Current Laws that Protect Students’ Civil Rights

There are a number of current laws that already protect students’ civil rights. For instance, some laws prevent discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. These laws specifically prohibit discrimination based on race, color, and national origin as defined by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and are enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Additionally, the Department of Education oversees situations involving:

These civil rights laws may include, but are not limited to:

  • Admissions
  • Recruitment
  • Financial aid
  • Academic programs
  • Student treatment and services
  • Counseling and guidance
  • Discipline
  • Classroom assignments and grading
  • Vocational education
  • Recreation
  • Physical education and athletics
  • Housing
  • Employment

How AI will influence or affect these laws for students is yet to be seen. It is likely there will be laws and regulations aimed specifically at transparency in education while the interpretation of existing laws might expand to address issues that arise in education. For example, San Francisco banned facial recognition software by government agencies. Could this apply to online schools if facial recognition was an option to determine attendance?

FERPA Also Ensures Students’ Privacy

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (otherwise known as FERPA or 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) “is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.”

The focus of FERPA is the protection of student records. Schools must have written permission from the parent or an eligible student in order to release any information that is not directory information from a student’s education record.

What, if any, effect AI will have on FERPA has not been identified or addressed. A fundamental challenge of AI is access to data. We will need to determine who has access to student data, how it will be stored and how will that data be distributed as machines learn to analyze data.

Preparing for the Future: The American AI Initiative

Executive Order 13859 introduced the American AI Initiative, America’s AI strategy. The Order focused on five initiatives:

1) Sustained AI research and development

2) Support through Federal AI resources

3) Remove barriers to AI innovation

4) AI-focused education and training opportunities for American workers

5) American AI innovation and its responsible use

While the strategic focus is on the advancement of AI, it leaves the door open to potential challenges such as de-identifying data. Is it possible to create anonymous data? How will we determine if a student is actually completing work or if someone else is filling in for that student? These challenges, as related to the education field, have yet to be clearly articulated by governments and educators.

AI Jobs Act of 2018 Will Require AI Training in Classrooms

In January 2018, the AI JOBS Act of 2018 was introduced in the House. The Act states that “It is the sense of Congress that technology can improve the lives of individuals, but can also disrupt jobs, and for this reason, innovation should be encouraged while training and retraining American workers for our 21st century economy.”

The Act would require the Secretary of Labor to prepare a report on artificial intelligence and its impact on the workforce. Obviously, additional training in AI will be a factor. This training will begin in the classroom for future generations.

The Future of AI Laws and Education

Laws related to AI in the classroom are clearly missing in our society. Could students be vulnerable to bias, confidential data release, or simply an inferior education? Is there a potential for fraud with the appearance of AI in classrooms? Also, will academic accreditation be at risk if an instructor is a teacher bot?

AI has the potential to improve people’s lives by helping to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. This approach to AI, however, must begin in classrooms.

Like the laws concerning AI use and public safety, there should be a thorough assessment of the risks that the addition of AI to classrooms may reduce or increase. Regulators should consider how AI can lower educational costs and barriers to innovation without adversely impacting safety or education fairness.

About the Author

Dr. Shelley Pumphrey is a professor at American Public University. She has over 35 years in the energy industry and has taught at several universities and colleges. She holds a Ph.D. in information security.

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