Amanda Lewis: Artificial Intelligence and School Public Relations

By Amanda Lewis, ISPRA President 2021-23
Communications and Public Relations Specialist
Des Moines Public Schools

Newsmomia a friendly smart robot working at a laptop. 35240454 59ad 4433 93b1 eadd5d39779c

Image generated by AI ‘MidJourney’ in less than 10 seconds. I asked it for a “friendly robot working at a laptop”

I had the opportunity over the last week to attend the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) conferences in St. Louis. If you’ve never been, NSPRA is a great opportunity to learn and network with other school PR professionals from around the country. CGCS is a much smaller group of professionals from large urban districts.

At both, the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was an exciting topic.

Some public relations professionals have sworn off it, many are hesitant, some are dipping their toes in, and some are fully embracing AI, making ChatGPT a new, full-bore member of the team. One CGCS district calls their ChatGPT account an intern and refers to it using a human name. I can’t remember what it was. I’m partial to “Bob,” but I’m a big Dennis Taylor fan. I digress.

I won’t try anything cheeky here on the ISPRA blog like writing this entire article with ChatGPT and surprising you with that fact at the end. This is all material from an authentic, stressed, and (currently) sleep-deprived school PR professional from Des Moines, Iowa. And it’s that ‘stressed’ part that I want to talk to you about.

What I discovered at NSPRA and CGCS is that AI is assisting school PR professionals all over the country with the first drafts of everything from news releases to blog posts to social media campaigns, and so much more. The human element can be added before anything is published, and the hours that would have been spent creating that first draft were free for human interaction and strategic thinking for the benefit of students and colleagues.

AI can take the draft you wrote and suggest points you may want to include in your writing. AI can take your news release and turn it into a blog and social media posts. It’s good for fun stuff, too. I asked it for suggestions about what to do after hours in St. Louis. AI gave me 12 good ideas.

As we all work in education, you can bet there were ethical considerations batted around at the conferences.

“We don’t let students use AI… are we being hypocritical?”

“If I use AI, should I give it credit or reveal the assistance in the byline or at the bottom of a document?”

Those are important considerations. However, multiple presenters said that students are already using AI – we can accept it now or later, but we’ll eventually have to accept it.

As speaker (and ISPRA colleague) Akwi Nji noted, when calculators were invented, we did not stop learning math. We just became faster and more efficient at solving problems.

Another presenter said to the room full of communications professionals, “AI won’t replace you. But you will be replaced by people who know how to use AI to their district’s advantage.”

What if we had declined to use the calculator? Or been afraid someone would find out we were not furiously writing out equations every time we needed a math problem solved? AI is becoming part of the fabric of our technology capabilities. For better or worse, it is here to stay.

I’ll ‘sum’ this up quickly because I know you have a pile of work waiting for you. I’m not trying to push anyone into using AI. It has flaws. I’m one of the toe-dippers not ready to fully embrace this technology yet. But what if we could be a little less stressed? What if we made room for this digital intern in our daily lives? What if it could free up enough time so that our work becomes less hurried, and the product is better?

Our jobs are about serving students and families in the clearest, most efficient way possible. Maybe an AI tool like “Bob the intern” can help us do that better.