High school students are divided on whether they should use generative AI tools for school, and most of those who did found errors in what these tools produced, according to a new report from ACT.
For the report, "High School Students’ Use and Impressions of AI Tools", ACT researchers asked 4,006 10th to 12th-grade students nationally about their AI usage and their views on such tools. The students surveyed were those who had registered to take the national ACT test, said report author Dr. Jeff Schiel, a lead research scientist at ACT.
A little less than half of the students surveyed responded that they had used AI tools (46%), the majority having used chatbot ChatGPT (83%). 40% of students responded that they used “Other AI tools,” 17% said AI image generation tool Dall-E 2, and 19% said they used chatbots Bing Chat and Google Bard.
About half of the students who had used AI tools told ACT they used them for school assignments (46%), with most students (64%) using the tools a few times a month or less for assignments. 27% said they employed the tools at most a few times a week, and 8% used them at least once a day.
Writing in language arts was why most students used AI tools (66%), followed by social studies (49%), according to the survey. Computer science and programming was found to be the least common reason for such tool use (17%).
“One interesting finding in this study was the relationship between students’ academic achievement level (as measured by ACT Composite scores) and AI tool use,” the report noted. “Students with higher academic performance were significantly more likely to use AI tools than were students with lower academic performance.”
To note, about two-thirds of users reported noticing errors or incorrect information in their AI-produced schoolwork content (63%), meaning most students are at least aware of the imperfections and flaws that come with such tools.
Apart from schoolwork, students said they used AI for other reasons and cases as well, including entertainment and hobbies (58%); personalized recommendations for items such as movies and products (50%); writing assistance on projects unrelated to school (48%); text translations (30%), and coding assistance for things other than school (15%).
The use of AI tools in school has been criticized, akin to how such tools have received plenty of attention and backlash in other sectors as well, primarily in the art sphere. Issues of theft and dishonesty surround the topic. According to the report, most students surveyed said none of their teachers allowed the use of AI tools for schoolwork (62%).
And despite a good portion of students being willing to use AI tools for school, only 10% of surveyed students said that they had considered using them from college admissions essays, citing that AI could be helpful for editing and coming up with ideas.
On the other hand, the 90% that said they had not considered using AI for their college essays cited concerns over matters such as authenticity, originality, quality, integrity, hindering growth as writers, and potentially getting caught and punished.
“Nothing written by AI is original work and is not a reflection of the person who claims to be a work’s ‘creator.,’” said one student who was quoted in the report.
According to the report, the predominant reasons as to why students chose not to use AI tools in general were lack of interest, trust, and information on it. Students hold uncertainty about the tools, said Dr. Becky Bobek, principal research scientist at ACT and a co-author of the report.
"We were seeing some research that said students and teachers seem to have very positive impressions of AI,” Schiel said. “That's really not what we found. We found that there was some skepticism about AI tools among students who do not use them."
Students’ fast adoption of AI tools today is clear, Bobek said. But there may be some access issues that leave some students on unequal footing.
“It's important for us to note that some students may not have access to AI tools due to limited access to digital technologies at home,” Bobek said. “And as schools and educators consider using AI for teaching and learning, it is important for them to keep in mind the potential access issues and to support students who may lack that access, as well as having educators keep in mind other limitations of AI tools, which can include incorrect information and limited understanding of some of the concepts that they may be asking students to expound on in writing assignments."
ACT research scientist Dr. Joyce Z. Schnieders joined Schiel and Bobek as a fellow report author.