Miramontes: OCDE harnesses AI’s potential while promoting responsible digital citizenship

Once confined to science fiction, artificial intelligence has broken through to our reality, flashing its potential to transform industries and our society in ways never before imagined. And schools are no exception.

AI isn’t just knocking on classroom doors anymore, it’s inside, and we are already discovering how it can make learning more engaging, interactive and tailored to the needs of each student. At the same time, it’s clear that there must be safeguards in place, along with proper guidance from educators to ensure we’re leading students along the path to becoming responsible digital citizens.

From the desk of Ramon Miramontes, Ed.D.

At the Orange County Department of Education, we are not spectators in the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence — we’re active participants. Through strategic partnerships, pioneering initiatives and professional development, we’re striving to harness AI’s potential to uplift our schools, districts and communities. We’ve also committed to acting intentionally and responsibly to ensure the use of this powerful technology aligns with our core values and serves the best interests of students.

Our work in this digital arena began last year with the launch of OC AI Forward, a countywide initiative with support from Dr. Sabba Quidwai of Designing Schools and our local district superintendents. Monthly sessions have promoted the exchange of knowledge and best practices among local education leaders, creating a unified and collaborative approach to AI.

In 2023, OCDE also hired two new administrators of artificial intelligence and innovation. Wes Kriesel, a former high school English teacher, and Kunal Dalal, an education technology advocate from Silicon Valley, are working with our staff and the districts we serve, envisioning a future where AI assists in customizing educational content to enhance engagement and improve learning outcomes.

As Kriesel and Dalal shared in a recent interview, their work goes beyond simply showing other educators how to use new tech. Instead, they want to shift perspectives by changing the way teachers view and embed AI into their lessons.

“We are in the business of humans,” Dalal said. “That means we have the opportunity to reconnect with the human element of what we do and let the bits and bytes be managed by the AI model.”

Looking ahead, OCDE is gearing up to host its first “Student AI Summit: For Youth, By Youth” on April 25 in Anaheim. This event, which will feature dynamic presentations and interactive sessions, is expected to draw more than 600 students who will get to share their views on AI’s evolving role in their lives and education.

Through this surge of innovation, it’s important that we are vigilant about the potential for misuse and abuse — and remember that these considerations aren’t exclusive to AI. In fact, similar challenges emerged with the introduction of other educational tools, from calculators to computers. Even something as innocuous as notebook paper can become a distraction when folded into an airplane and sent aloft.

But here’s the thing: These tools aren’t going away. That means we must be deliberate and thoughtful in our approach to using and teaching them, relying on shared ethical values and standards for what is right and wrong.

Using AI wisely transcends merely learning new technical skills. It’s about fostering good digital citizens who approach technology with integrity and character. While AI-enabled personalized learning has the potential to transform education, our responsibility extends beyond academics. We also have an obligation to keep students safe and help them grow into responsible and caring humans.

That vision is what drives us forward at the Orange County Department of Education, and it’s a future we’re committed to building together.

Ramon Miramontes, Ed.D. serves as deputy superintendent of instructional programs for the Orange County Department of Education.