From education to employment

We need to win hearts and minds before we unleash the robots


Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform education – but to be able to fully embrace it, colleges need the space and time to think carefully about implementation and impact, says AoC’s Matt Rhodes

Imagine a future where colleges have the space and time to fully harness the potential of AI. Imagine AI-powered virtual labs that allow students to conduct experiments and learn in immersive environments, regardless of their physical location. Imagine customised courses that adapt to the career progression of individuals, making education a truly continuous, accessible, and tailored experience.

It’s all possible, but to fully realise this future, colleges need to be granted the time and space to think carefully about both the implementation and the impact of AI. This, of course, is easier said than done in the current climate, but there are three areas which I think are worth focusing on.  

Understanding and trust

Teachers and administrators must trust the tools they use. Establishing trust requires training and transparent communication about how AI works, its benefits, and its limitations. If staff members understand and trust the technology, they’re more likely to employ it in ways that truly enhance learning.

One of the most significant impacts of AI in education is on staff wellbeing and if this can’t help win the hearts and minds nothing will. AI can automate administrative tasks such as lesson planning and creating resources, reducing the workload for teachers and allowing them to focus more on teaching and less on paperwork. This shift not only improves job satisfaction but also enhances the quality of interaction between staff and students. When teachers are less burdened by administrative duties, they can dedicate more energy to creative and engaging teaching.

Ethical and inclusive implementation

 AI must be used responsibly, adhering to ethical standards that protect student privacy and ensure fairness. Staff who are knowledgeable about AI can help ensure its use respects these principles and contributes positively to all students’ educational experiences.

AI in FE

To guide the ethical and effective implementation of AI in colleges, Jisc has developed a framework outlining principles for the use of AI in FE. This framework provides a set of guidelines aimed at fostering responsible use of AI, ensuring that these technologies benefit both students and teachers without compromising ethical standards or privacy. The principles cover areas such as transparency, accountability, and inclusivity, and are designed to help colleges navigate the complexities of AI adoption.

Understanding the regulatory perspectives on AI is also crucial as we navigate this transition. Ofsted has outlined an approach to AI that emphasises responsible implementation while recognising the potential benefits of these technologies in education.

Adaptation to changing roles

As AI automates routine tasks, teachers’ roles will evolve to emphasise more creative, interpersonal, and analytical activities. Preparing staff for these changes ensures they feel valued and secure, reducing resistance to new technologies.

A key area of change will be assessment, and in recognition of this Ofqual has published its approach to regulating the use of AI in the qualifications sector. This approach focuses on maintaining the validity and reliability of assessments and safeguarding public confidence in qualifications. Ofqual’s guidelines highlight the importance of transparency and accountability in the use of AI to ensure that it supports fair and equitable assessment practices.

Across the board, AI is making its mark in colleges by providing tools that can personalise learning, predict student performance, and even offer virtual assistance. These innovations are not just about making incremental changes; they are about transforming the educational landscape. For example, AI-driven analytics can help teachers identify students who might need extra help, ensuring that support is tailored and timely. Colleges such as Hull College are also working with local businesses to help them harness the benefits of AI, bolstering the local economy and stimulating growth.

This can be a daunting space for leaders and teachers, and it’s important that there is the time to discuss and learn from others in the sector. The upcoming AoC AI in FE conference will be a platform for discussing these advancements, and a great source of support for many. The conference will showcase the latest AI uses and strategies being implemented in colleges, offering a glimpse into the future of education.

Ignoring AI is no longer an option: the conversation around AI in FE has evolved from mitigating risks to embracing opportunities. As we look forward, it’s clear that AI offers a plethora of tools that can transform further education in profound ways. However, realising this potential requires thoughtful implementation, mindful of both the possibilities and the pitfalls. Colleges that take the time to explore and understand AI can lead the charge towards a more innovative, effective, and inclusive educational landscape.

Matt Rhodes is the Head of Sport at AoC, with oversight of digital and AI policy

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