Artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionised UK commerce, and it has the potential to do the same for education. But, not surprisingly, the industry is lagging behind in the adoption of AI technologies.
In 2018, the government announced £50m investment for AI and digital systems in healthcare. By stark contrast, these is a huge lack of public funding in AIEd (reported by Nesta); it totalled only £1m across nine projects between 2014 and 2017. So why is there such as reluctance to embrace A.I. in education? We look at the incredible potential of using A.I. to improve schools and education now.
Nesta report explores the potential of AIEd
Global innovation foundation Nesta recently published a mammoth report on the subject – titled Educ-AI-tion Rebooted? Exploring the future of artificial intelligence in schools and colleges.
It begins: ‘Students, parents, teachers, government and regulators must wake up to the potential of artificial intelligence tools for education (AIEd), because as the world changes – our schools will change too.’
To save you from reading the full report, we’ve picked out what we believe are the most important points.
AI in education today
AI is already being used in schools and colleges – though its full potential remains untapped. The tools can be grouped into three categories:
- Learner-facing AIEd. Software used by pupils to understand new information – often referred to as adaptive, personalised or differentiated learning platforms. These can create and stagger learning materials based on pupil needs; identify pupils’ strengths, weaknesses and knowledge gaps; and provide automated feedback.
- Teacher-facing AIEd. These help teachers reduce workloads through automating tasks (like assessment and plagiarism detection); gain insights on class and pupil-based progress; and innovate (for example, by facilitating different teaching methods).
- System-facing AIEd. These tools are the least widespread, helping or informing decisions made by those in charge of school management/administration or the education system as a whole.
The software such as School Recruiter, https://schoolrecruiter.co.uk/ for example, cleverly matches draft school job advert with real candidates to serve you your next teacher before you have even published the ad. And the websites eteach.com and fejobs.com which intelligently collect highly accurate data about candidates in order to serve them the perfect marketing experience that gets those candidates applying for jobs. These incredible developments are already significantly increasing the flow of candidates to schools while dramatically cutting their recruitment costs, sometimes by 75%.
Of the 69 AIEd companies analysed by Nesta – all of which are involved in other markets and technologies alongside AIEd in schools and colleges – 52 focused on learner-facing tools. Just 14 companies were involved in educator-facing tools and three with system-facing ones.
What parents think
Nesta commissioned a YouGov study to learn what parents with children under 18 felt about AI and its potential. Gathering 1,225 responses, it found that:
- Most parents were fairly or very happy for AI to be used for tasks like timetabling (75%), teacher admin tasks (65%) and tweaking the pace of learning based on each pupil (55%).
- There were concerns about using AI for tasks like automated homework marking – 48% felt unhappy or very unhappy with AI having a role.
- Parents were worried about a number of possible consequences of AI tools, in particular determinism (78%), breaches of security and data privacy (73%), lack of transparency (77%) and accountability (77%).
- Parents most trusted schools to make decisions over collecting and sharing their child’s data, followed by an independent regulator (36%) and parents themselves (30%).
Despite these hang-ups, 61% of parents believe AI will play a fairly or very important role in the classroom in 2035.
AI’s promise and potential – the ‘five wicked challenges’
Rather than make predictions for AI, Nesta explores how AI can resolve the ‘five wicked challenges’ facing schools and colleges.
- Excessive workloads affecting wellbeing and recruitment. Teachers are stressed and quitting the profession in droves – our own research confirms this. Used well, AIEd can automate tasks that drain teachers’ time, such as data admin and marking.
- One-size-fits-all education. AIEd brings together the best of both worlds: personalised learning (not dissimilar to one-on-one tuition) but in a stimulating classroom environment.
- Narrow assessments inhibit teaching and learning. The current system tests a narrow range of abilities through informal tests and more formal exams. AIEd used for assessment can facilitate more frequent, formative assessments and offer more insight into what’s happening in the classroom, beyond test scores.
- Difficulty sharing insights. Many schools (especially non-MAT schools) are not efficient in sharing data with other institutions. With the right systems in place for collecting and pooling relevant data, a genuine AI-driven network could become a reality.
- Inconsistency of education provision and lack of social mobility. AIEd offers opportunities to share best practice, improve access to quality learning materials and boost teaching quality across the board.
To the future – Nesta’s recommendations
Just like any new tech, there are challenges to successfully implementing AI across schools and colleges. Here are those challenges, along with Nesta’s key recommendations:
Growing and scaling AIEd in schools
There needs to be upstreaming of public funding for AIEd R&D through Innovate UK – the UK’s innovation agency. This funding should be focused on teacher and system-facing tools, both of which have huge potential but are currently underdeveloped.
Improving effectiveness of AIEd tools
The government needs to organise for schools and colleges to create EdTech test-beds so companies can trial AIEd in real settings, and set out leadership responsible for coordinating AIEd support.
Nesta says the government should publicly declare its goal to create a system of responsible data sharing by 2030. The bodies responsible for governing AI and data should also allocate time and resource to debating the consequences of these technologies for education.
Helping schools learn and evolve
Launching an ‘AIEd Assessment Challenge Prize’ will help identify new ways to broaden the scope of assessment reliably. Government bodies responsible for accountability systems should also explore how AIEd assessment tool insights can be combined with human expertise as part of ‘collective intelligence’ through pilots in schools and colleges.
The report concludes: ‘AIEd can serve as a platform that enables us to re-imagine the design of our education system so that it is fit for the future.’ We all have a part to play in what’s been dubbed ‘the fourth education revolution.’ Only when the identified gaps in AIEd leadership, awareness, funding and expertise are filled, will schools and colleges be able to reap the full benefits of AI.
What’s your opinion of AIEd? Is it already having an impact on teaching and learning in your school or college?
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