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First NSW generative AI classroom assistant

The NSW Department of Education has partnered with Microsoft to develop a generative AI app, custom built for the NSW education system for teachers and students in Year 5 and up after ChatGPT was banned last year.

NSWEduChat offers the data protection, privacy and ethical standards that commercial AI chatbots don't, and it won't write whole essays for students looking to cheat on their assignments.

Questions and data submitted to the chatbot will only prompt a response if they are appropriate and education related, but the AI assistant doesn't reveal whole answers to most questions.

Department director of educational standards Dr Paul Wood told The Australian the chatbot uses Socratic questioning – throwing back questions to students about their own work.

"The app is designed in a way that if you put into the app, ‘Can you please write me an essay on Hamlet?’ it will not write you the essay,’’ Dr Wood said.

“It will come back and ask you some questions that will prompt you to think a bit more critically about what you already know.

“So it might come back with the response that says, ‘I can help you with your essay: can you tell me who are the main characters in Hamlet you would like to focus your essay on?

“Students will start to engage in a bit of a conversation with the app, but the app won’t provide an essay in response.’’

The chatbot's educational knowledge is limited to the content in the national and NSW curriculums, and the data it collects, such as student names and test results, is available only to the department.

The assistant also has a 'teacher tool' that some teachers have said could save them hours per week in lesson planning.

The teacher tool can also translate lessons into other languages for migrant students, or tailor lessons to suit the needs of disabled students.

Teacher and founder of ed-tech charity Grok Academy Dr James Curran said he is encouraged to see schools experiment with generative AI.

"The department is taking the right approach – a limited trial focused on privacy, safety, correctness, and impact on learning – and transparency in the whole process, although I would like to see them go a lot further on this front," he said.

"It isn’t obvious yet where AI can and can’t be used effectively. Since AI tools are evolving so rapidly, today’s answer may be very different to tomorrow’s answer.

"The only solution is to invest heavily in teacher capability in AI and broader digital literacy through comprehensive professional learning."

NSWEduChat will be trialled in the following 16 public schools – 10 primary and six secondary – for the first two terms of this school year, accessible through student and teacher portals.

  • Punchbowl Boys High School  
  • Kingscliff High School 
  • Hunter Sports High School  
  • Leumeah High School
  • Jannali High School 
  • East Hills Girls Tech High School  
  • Bomaderry High School 
  • The Ponds High School 
  • Callaghan College 
  • Plumpton High School 
  • Hannam Vale Public School 
  • Bathurst West Public School
  • ANZAC Park Public School  
  • Avalon Public School  
  • Rowland Hassel SSP
  • Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre 

The tool complies with recommendations in the Australian Framework for Generative AI in schools, enhancing teaching and learning and promoting student privacy, security and safety.

Microsoft has also collaborated with the SA Department of Education, and another AI tool is currently being trialed in some Qld schools.

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