From education to employment

Harnessing the power of AI: A new era of education

Simon Freeman

In this article, Simon delves into the transformative impact of AI and ML in education, showcasing their potential to alleviate educator burnout, automate tasks, and personalise learning. The article emphasises the importance of balancing AI efficiencies with human guidance for optimal results.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are vital catalysts for growth and creativity across multiple sectors – and education is no different. For time-strapped educators, AI has been proving invaluable in helping to automate admin tasks and create teaching resources.

The responsibilities of education professionals have dynamically evolved over time. With 16% of teachers planning to leave in the next two years and a further 41% within five years due to burnout, it’s imperative for institutions to ramp up the onboarding of AI tools.

Yet, research suggests, the introduction of new technology often sparks apprehension. That’s why it’s crucial to educate teachers about AI’s potential influence, both on them and on the students’ futures. Undeniably, AI has tremendous potential to enhance teaching and learning, fostering positive evolution in the sector for the benefit of teachers and learners alike.

Unlocking the benefits of AI

Most teachers and faculty staff frequently struggle with time management and heavy workloads, working an average of 54 hours a week, with 13 of those hours falling outside of the normal school day. This is where AI can help, through automation of various tasks, analysis of student performance and closing the education gap. This enables educators to spend more time on personalised student interactions, to delve into research and hone their professional development.

For example, AI-based personalisation can dramatically enhance students’ learning experiences. By assessing individual learning abilities, AI provides teachers with insights into subjects and lessons that require re-evaluation.  This allows professors to tailor courses, addressing the most prevalent knowledge gaps or challenging areas and prevents students from falling too far behind.

AI’s technical prowess can significantly impact automating mundane tasks. A Telegraph survey found that teachers spend 31% of their time on lesson planning and grading tests. However, AI-enabled automation tools can streamline these manual processes, affording teachers more time to dedicate to core teaching responsibilities. Deploying AI-powered chatbots can help respond to generic and repetitive student questions without involving faculty members.

In addition, AI can streamline engagement by automating communication between schools and parents. Writing assistants can be used to compose letters from scratch, request re-writes of existing letters, condense information from other sources and select templates from within the system. School staff would simply need to type in what they want help with, input a few details, describe the tone required and wait a few seconds. Just this seemingly simple switch can save time for busy staff whilst helping to foster a stronger community feel through frequent personalised communication with parents.

Leveraging data for impactful decision-making

A significant benefit of AI lies in its ability for swift and precise data analysis. AI-powered tools can enable leaders to exploit highly advanced and quick data analysis, providing insights that previously would have taken months to collect. For instance, by integrating multiple data sources, AI-driven solutions could highlight the effect of local roadworks, bus routes, or even weather conditions on student attendance – or if a viral illness is affecting a significant number of teachers and student performance.

AI can also assist in analysing student and teacher performance, offering insights into successful teaching methods. Educational leaders could then use this information to customise professional development programmes and support teachers in refining their teaching methods.

Harnessing AI-powered data can aid in real-time problem-solving and future student and staff performance predictions. All vital when distributing resources on tight budgets, and can save schools both time and cost.

Addressing the concerns

While AI can amplify educational benefits, schools and parents must proceed with caution to ensure the risks don’t outweigh the opportunities. For example, language models could potentially create factual inaccuracies, causing students to submit work that is not entirely correct. In the end, the effectiveness of these models is only as reliable as the data they are trained on.

In addition, there is a lack of clear guidelines surrounding the acceptable use and boundaries of these technologies. Instead of relying on each school to create their individual policies, government collaboration with AI vendors and early adopter schools and trusts is crucial to establish excellence centres –. collating best practices, formulating guidelines and creating training resources for other schools.

Generative AI tools could significantly impact assessments, as they essentially blur the lines of authorship on students’ written coursework. Educational bodies need controlled assessments for extended writing tasks and agree on acceptable levels of AI submissions. Over time, more progressive countries could embrace this shift, recognising the importance of equipping students with these tools and viewing AI as a skill, much like a scientific calculator. Schools might have to go one step further and separate AI and non-AI exams.

With so many AI tools available on the market, schools must ensure they are working with an AI provider that works within a governance framework with clearly defined ethical and legal standards. To address the concerns, the technology partner must adhere to a clear set of rules that restrict the prompt models to only operate within a certain parameter. For example, our company is actively developing the ‘IRIS laws of robotics’, of which a prime tenet is that no AI shall take any action without prior vetting and confirmation from a human agent.

In addition, with continuous AI developments, rigorous testing and algorithm training are imperative whilst ensuring data stays within the system. This would give schools and parents peace of mind that they can trust data to be safe and accurate.

The importance of striking the balance

Present-day educators are witnessing an ongoing technological revolution as AI-enabled learning platforms, educational games, chatbots, virtual tutors and organisation tools continue to increase rapidly. Recognising AI is poised for an ever-increasing role in education, most teachers have already begun incorporating AI tools into their daily tasks. In fact, a third of teachers now use ChatGPT to help with their school work, and this trend won’t slow down.

However, school staff must be assured of AI’s efficiencies. While tasks can easily be automated, human intervention will always be required to guide the AI systems and ensure a robust synergy. Applied appropriately, AI could fuel more informed decision-making, liberate educators from time-consuming tasks, boost student retention rates and pave the way for a new generation of teaching experts. With more support from the government and tech partners, educational organisations will be able to accelerate their knowledge and application of this new technology, making the future of AI in this sector very exciting.

By Simon Freeman, Managing Director of Education at IRIS Software Group

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