As a sector, if we can embrace AI then it will pay dividends in the long term.
GUEST COLUMN | by Mel Parker
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in education on an unprecedented scale. From changing the way teachers communicate with their students, to evolving how students absorb information, the digitization of the classroom has revolutionized the education sector for good.
ChatGPT’s recent launch, and the mainstream penetration of Artificial Intelligence (AI), represents the latest, and arguably largest, technological leap to affect education. While exactly how it can be implemented effectively in the classroom is yet to be seen, it is clear that teachers have a historic opportunity to use AI to tackle some of the key challenges they face in the classroom.
‘ChatGPT’s recent launch, and the mainstream penetration of Artificial Intelligence (AI), represents the latest, and arguably largest, technological leap to affect education.’
The Perception of AI
Many have touted AI as being capable of alleviating administrative burdens from teachers. Whilst the idea of slimmed down workloads and driving efficiencies within the classroom is attractive to many, it is understandable that such a large technological leap forward in the classroom has been met with some negative responses from teachers and parents alike. Indeed, almost half of teachers in a recent EdWeek Research Center survey said that AI would have a negative effect in the next five years. Only 27% said it would be positive.
Part of the reason behind this skepticism is that AI remains in its infancy. Programs such as ChatGPT, which only launched in November 2022, remain in a state of constant development, meaning inaccurate or irrelevant results are likely to happen occasionally.
But, rather than seeing AI as a complete solution, it must be thought of (and used) as a supporting tool. The comparison to draw here should be with autopilot. Whilst you can turn on the autopilot mode in a car or plane, the operator of the vehicle must continue to have their hands at the wheel to correct any mistakes.
As these programs are under development, they should be monitored and teachers should have the ability to step in and make appropriate adjustments. In fact, AI is already being utilized in the non-teaching departments of schools through platforms and programs on a daily basis. As such, tapping into the learnings from these departments will not only create more efficient use of the technology, but bolster confidence too.
Going Beyond Dotting I’s and Crossing T’s
As a sector, if we can embrace AI then it will pay dividends in the long term. Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, was right when she highlighted the ability of AI to do some of the ‘heavy lifting’ involved in teaching. Indeed, any teacher will tell you that administration remains a constant distraction from teaching.
According to the Department for Education, teachers on average work 57.5 hours a week. However, tasks such as lesson preparation, marking, and other general administrative tasks result in just 19.3 hours being spent in the classroom, teaching.
AI programs can offer teachers a way to reduce their administrative workload. Time saved on administrative tasks will allow teachers to spend more one-on-one time with pupils to aid their educational development. For example when marking a pupils homework, AI models could make suggestions, with the teacher making the final judgement. It could even review marks given by a variety of teachers to recognize biases and anomalies in work. This could save hours each week.
But, this technology can go one step further. AI models can help teachers personalize the learning experience for students – catering to different learning styles and abilities. For example, AI algorithms can use student data, such as preferred learning style, to simply create customized lesson plans.
Through automatically adapting exercises, lessons, and supporting material to meet the pupils’ ever changing developmental needs, AI unlocks the possibility of creating an educational environment where all pupils can thrive.
Embracing AI in the Classroom
As we have seen over the last six months, change in this sector takes days not months. It is conceivable that the ability of AI models will continue to skyrocket as large tech companies throw their weight behind programs such as ChatGPT.
For teachers to fully realize the power of AI in the classroom, they need to have the right tools at their disposal. Training on how to use AI programs, will help teachers ,and their pupils, discover how AI can be incorporated into the classroom in a way that complements rather than replaces traditional teaching methods.
It is clear that the advent of AI represents a historic opportunity for pupils and teachers alike. Therefore we, the technology industry, must support schools in embracing change and enabling potentially the greatest technological leap in the history of the classroom.
Mel Parker is an Educational Consultant at RM, a leading provider of ICT to UK education for nearly 50 years, providing software systems, services and infrastructure to schools, colleges, universities and examination bodies. Mel has served in various school roles including as a Deputy Head of Schools, Assistant Principal, Head of Mathematics, as well as an e-learning content developer. Connect with Mel on LinkedIn.