From education to employment

Welcome to a new age of digital enlightenment  

robot hand touching real hand

Artificial intelligence takes the spotlight at this year’s Association of Colleges conference 

The buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) at this year’s AoC conference was undeniable. 

From inspiring keynote speakers such as Julia Hobsbawm discussing the future of the workplace, to colleges such as Basingstoke College of Technology and Milton Keynes College using AI to boost wellbeing and lighten the administrative load for teachers, the use of innovative technologies was front and centre. 

There is a palpable thirst for knowledge amongst FE leaders and practitioners keen to understand the possibilities and grasp the emerging benefits of AI-augmented education. Following the disruption of the pandemic and the need for digitisation across teaching, learning and employment, I believe we are rapidly entering a new age of knowledge acquisition leading to digital enlightenment.  

The first age of enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries followed significant societal disruption and led to advancements in science, law, governance and progress, and I envision the impact of this next stage of digital enlightenment will be just as far reaching.  

Over the last year the number of different AI tools on offer has risen exponentially, and we have already seen much debate from world leaders around the regulation of AI to ensure what is used is safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly.  

However, not all colleges and FE providers are at the same level when it comes to realising the possibilities of what AI can (and importantly, cannot) do, and more understanding is needed across the board to ensure nobody is left behind.  

Experts at Jisc’s National Centre for AI (NCAI) have created an AI primer that is regularly updated to help our members better understand the capabilities of these emerging tools, and to keep them up to speed on the latest developments across the field of AI. We are also running regular courses and discussion forums and host a dedicated AI community of practice for our members to help remove any barriers to progression. 

It is clear the blue touch paper of innovation has been lit, and we are only just beginning to realise the full potential of AI. There are exciting times ahead as new and emerging technologies continue to change the landscape of education and work.  

If the next twelve months are anything like the last, the FE sector must harness its ability to adapt and evolve methods of teaching, learning and assessment, and, as the UK’s designated digital and data body for education and research, Jisc will be there to provide support and guidance where needed. 

The enthusiasm I observed at the AoC conference makes me confident that the future of FE is bright if we imagine it together, and I look forward to this next chapter of digital enlightenment.

By Robin Ghurbhurun, managing director of further education, skills and advice and training at Jisc.  

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