During a recent trip for my 40th high school reunion, I spent a few days with my friend who works for CEO Leadership Alliance Orange County. We brainstorm over coffee and avocado toast when we are together. She wants to tackle the elephant in the high school classroom – how to reach high school students to talk about AI’s role in their academic and professional future. We agreed that most teachers and administrators view it as the bogeyman, and we accept that many abuse it out of laziness to meet deadlines. Let’s reframe the purpose and opportunity of incorporating AI in writing and research.

It’s a time-saving tool but not a think-saving tool.

It does not eliminate the need to verify resources and research but can kick-start a project to save hours and push you out of writer’s block. ChatGPT came out as my son was winding up his senior year before heading to OSU College of Engineering (proud mom, yes). I could hear him shouting from his room at the ineptness of his “new favorite time-saving research tool” as he worked on projects requiring research, citing quotes, and summarizing long articles. He knew he needed to verify everything from cited page numbers to the quote. He tested the accuracy and found many times it was never a quote in the book or research paper. He spent more time verifying what ChatGPT gave him as “valid” information than possibly reading a 10-page research article and distilling it himself. It was an experiment. He learned a lot from the process. He also witnessed classmates taking ChatGPT results as law and copying and pasting them into their work, never doubting that their new best tech friend would betray them.

Let’s talk about the possibilities for students. It saves my time in outlining, pulling questions out of transcripts, changing the tone of something dry, and bringing in new angles to consider including. The results can lead to Aha! moments and more creative solutions. ChatGPT is a helpful tool to get me to think better, not to save me time thinking. There are times when headlines evade me longer than I want, so I’ve learned to stipulate, “Do not include the word unleash or unleashed in the options.” It’s quite fond of unleashing things as well as unveiling and thriving.

Back to our students. They need guidance and ideas on how to use these tools that can make them more effective. They must master them now because these tools will be a part of their careers. The students who hide from AI and dismiss it will struggle with a future. It will have bested them simply by not being used and tamed. If our teachers are not taught how to help their students discern how they use these AI tools, they will miss an opportunity to truly prepare them for a future world that will be adding more and more AI to everyday tasks and future discoveries. This includes technical, legal, medical, trades, and service industries. All industries are affected and will continue to include AI more each month.

The students learning to take full advantage of the time-saving elements will be freed up to explore deeper thoughts and information. The students who learn to verify the sources to avoid embarrassing themselves or the companies they work for will be valued. These are added skills. Adding Prompt Engineer to your resume will immediately put you higher than 80% of the competition – for now.

Do you have students in your life that you can guide? Can you talk to them about AI’s role in their immediate future? How do you feel about using it for your own time-saving needs? Are you using it for time-saving, or have you dipped into the thought-saving abyss?