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Artificial Intelligence has the potential to transform teaching and learning – and this is the moment to seize the opportunities it brings

Andy McGregor is director of edtech and Sue Attewell is head of edtech at Jisc, the UK’s education and technology not-for-profit

As @Jisc launches its National Centre for Artificial Intelligence in Tertiary Education, Sue Attewell and Andy McGregor describe the benefits of #AIED for student, staff, institutions – and UK plc 

Let’s seize this moment to transform teaching and learning with artificial intelligence 

We’re building from a strong start. Such technologies are already used with great success in UK universities and colleges – as shown in the AI in tertiary education state-of-the-nation report, published by the education and technology not-for-profit, Jisc, last week (27 Apr).

This report demonstrates the scope and scale of existing AI in education, with students supported by chatbots and digital assistants, and a growing interest in adaptive learning environments that respond to learning behaviours.  

The National Centre for AI is the next step. Jisc is collaborating with a group of innovation-focused institutions in the initiative, and it has been welcomed by global technology companies, including Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft. 

The impact could be huge.

AI can improve teaching, learning and access to education, powering personalised learning experiences to improve, among many things, social mobility and student wellbeing. Imagine systems, tools and structures that allow every learner to choose the right education for their own career pathway, reaching their highest potential, and acquiring the skills required to thrive in a digital workplace. 

We believe that taking a coordinated approach will accelerate the adoption of AI in UK tertiary education, implementing the best AI solutions at UK colleges and universities. 

This is about testing products and delivering practical support – so the new National Centre will test AI products that have been shown to deliver real benefits to staff, students, and institutions, identifying a portfolio of the most effective technologies on the market. The Centre’s consultants will then provide on-the-ground support for staff at colleges and universities, equipping people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to use AI tools in their teaching to support human delivery of education. 

The benefits are many. 

By increasing the use of AI in tertiary education, students could enjoy more personalised experiences. Staff could pass time-consuming manual tasks over to AI, gaining more time to spend with learners. And, for institutions, AI could support alternatives to traditional models, facilitating flexible, remote, and ‘bite-sized’ routes.

 As for UK plc, “The macroeconomic impact of artificial intelligence”, a 2018 McKinsey / PwC report estimates that the use of AI in the northern European education sector could lead to an additional compound annual growth rate of 1%. In the UK, that equates to hundreds of millions of pounds over the next decade. 

There are ethical and legal concerns around the role of AI in education, however – and, in many ways, these are more complex than the technology itself. We know that badly designed AI can show bias or even discriminate against certain groups. We also know that, with data, consent is crucial – as is an understanding of how information will, can, and may be used. Our aim with the National Centre is to explore ways in which AI can augment the most important, ethical, human-led aspects of education.

This is the moment to be bold, accelerating our uses and understanding of AI in tertiary education. We need a robust, considered approach that puts ethical AI at the heart of student-centred, human-led education. 

Andy McGregor is director of edtech and Sue Attewell is head of edtech at Jisc, the UK’s education and technology not-for-profit


Get involved with the Centre for AI by emailing [email protected] 

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