by Mark Anderson
Technology has always provided us with the opportunity to do more.
While some have been able to capitalise on its potential, most have not. From the many unsuccessful implementations (think of all the interactive whiteboards being used as expensive projectors) to the different technologies that often fail to live up to expectations, getting the technology right in education is too important (and costly) to leave to chance.
With the recent rapid advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in areas such as medicine, rightly, school leaders are looking at how this paradigm-shifting, workload-reducing, brilliant technology can be captured and used to enhance what we already do in education.
As international school leaders, we stand on the edge of a transformational time. We should ask ourselves: “What can we do to set ourselves apart from the crowd, to capitalise on these technologies and do the very best for our young people and our colleagues to improve learning opportunities and reduce workloads?” The answer is simultaneously complex yet simple and comes with many challenges.
Whilst AI can be ground-breaking in the different areas it touches, if we fail to consider the most critical strand in our digital strategy – the element sitting between the keyboard and the chair – we will most likely fail to realise the potential of yet another technology in our schools.
It is also crucial for schools to recognise that whilst the potential of AI is fantastic, its successful implementation is just as challenging as any other project. Time, focusing on the elements of change management, articulating the vision, involving stakeholders, ensuring sustainability and taking the time to reflect and learn during the process are all part and parcel of ensuring success.
What Opportunities Can We Capitalise Upon?
There are countless opportunities and, focusing on the easy wins, we can broadly explore four primary categories.
Innovative Teaching and Learning Practices
With its lightning-fast delivery, AI can help teachers regain time when preparing resources. From using a generative AI chatbot (such as Bard, Claude or ChatGPT) to an AI image generator (such as Adobe Creative Cloud Express or Canva) or the features embedded in Microsoft and Google tools, AI can certainly help to reduce their workload.
AI tools can also support personalised learning using platforms such as UpLearn that combine what we know about learning from the world of cognitive science to support retrieval practice and more. Delivering real-time feedback and creating enhanced educational resources to enrich the learning experience is well within AI’s remit.
Automating administrative tasks is an AI speciality, including composing emails, drafting documents, and more. Chatbots powered by AI and tailored in-house can also enhance interactions such as parent-teacher communications to reduce administrative workload and further streamline operations. Using tools such as MindJoy, students could even create their own chatbots as part of their curriculum.
A core part of a teacher’s job is to identify learning gaps and then help learners with the areas where they need improvement. Reading Progress and Reading Coach (two of Microsoft’s Learning Accelerators) are just two examples of tools teachers can use to support learners with the next steps in their learning. Another example of Microsoft working closely with education has been its partnership with the UAE Ministry of Education to develop virtual learning assistants through its Azure OpenAI service to help students utilise AI in their academic work.
Coaching and Professional Development
Another of AI’s capabilities is personalised coaching. For teachers, it can aid professional development by identifying growth areas and suggesting resources. For example, a brilliant voice interface is available through Inflection’s ‘Pi’ app, enabling users to talk to the AI through their device and receive personalised coaching support.
For students, generative AI interfaces such as Bard can provide coaching on topics including qualification/course choices for GCSE or A Level, career advice and university interview/application preparations. By analysing individual profiles and performance data, AI can offer tailored advice, helping to guide educational and career pathways.
Whilst there are numerous opportunities, AI tools do bring about some specific considerations. They have learned from us, so it is naturally the case that they have and do display the same biases and traits as humans, such as ableism, racism and sexism. It is essential to question any biases that might be present.
As I shared in a recent blog post on these points, Digital Citizenship has never been so important – and in my recently created acrostic for teachers to share with students, I used the word IDEAL to help frame thinking when using AI as a student.
Image source: ICT Evangelist
Naturally, there are concerns about students cheating by using these tools to write their essays or to answer questions, but this brings opportunities to employ live checking and questioning to assess learning.
Teachers know their students well, and if a teacher’s radar picks up that a student has created something they feel is beyond that student’s usual reach, a quick conversation will often be enough to assuage or confirm any concerns they may have.
Professional Understanding and Learning
A challenge to successful technology implementation often results from a lack of understanding of ‘what a good one looks like’. So, when visiting schools, one key question I always ask is to see one of the class devices; it’s a great way to test the temperature of a digital strategy. Often (although increasingly less so), senior leaders burst with pride to show me the many tens, sometimes hundreds, of apps they have on their devices, forgetting the important point that less is often more.When we think about failed implementations, a large part of the problem has been a lack of consistency in the tools used across a setting, coupled with a lack of related understanding and training. What is needed is what I call the ‘5 Cs’:
Confidence (in using the tools), Cognisance (of why to use a tool), Competence (in how to use the tools), Consistency (in the use of tools across a setting) and Context (tools in use that reflect the needs of a setting). And with AI being just another tool in a school’s arsenal of tools to use, these approaches don’t change.
Having access to lots of technology does not, however, equal a school that uses technology well. Ensure that you have thought carefully about the 5 Cs and select those core tools for your setting that have been considered, trialled and checked for impact. Ensure also that teachers are supplied with support, training and time to gain the competence, confidence and cognisance of which tools to use, when and why.
Focusing on what makes CPD effective is the linchpin to ensuring a smooth transition towards AI integration. My ‘‘Little Book of Generative AI Prompts is a resource to aid educators in exploring the potential of AI in a structured and insightful manner.
Policy and Regulatory Frameworks
The pace of AI innovation has eclipsed the evolution of policy and regulatory frameworks. There seem to be new developments every day, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have policies in place to set out expected responsible use and safeguard against the problems you might encounter. As a guide, I created a template policy for the use of AI in education, co-authored with Laura Knight FRSA, which aims to help schools navigate this complex landscape.
Finally, don’t worry! We know from previous experiences that we will inevitably have to navigate the ‘trough of despair’, as per the adoption lifecycle. Therefore, a robust digital strategy rooted in effective change management and CPD is essential. Getting this in place is pivotal to realising the full potential of AI in our educational frameworks – and if you’re looking for some help with that, check out a free guide to creating a digital strategy that I co-authored with Al Kingsley.
As leaders, we will want to embrace AI for our teachers to improve learning and teaching and to reduce workload. For our administration staff, we will want them to be ever more efficient and focus on core priorities while outsourcing some of the more mundane tasks to technology. And for our learners, we will want them to use these tools to personalise their learning and prepare them for a world very different from the one we experienced upon graduation.
Whichever way you look at it, the voyage into the future will be led by technology. We must remember that these tools are simply that, tools, which should be used at the right time, in the right place and in the right way. AI doesn’t replace educators or others but instead scaffolds and supports. Just as a teacher’s best place in the classroom is often as a ‘guide on the side’ rather than a ‘sage on the stage’, AI is a tool to be used but not blindly infused. It is our job to help all stakeholders be cognisant of what works, what doesn’t and how to use it for the betterment of all.
Here’s a bio of the author, Mark Anderson (written by AI, of course, and then tweaked by Mark):
“Mark Anderson, a distinguished thought leader in education, EdTech, modern pedagogies and AI, combines over 20 years of teaching and leadership experience with an additional eight years as a sought-after consultant and keynote speaker. His expertise in digital strategy and EdTech has been shaping tech integration in education for well over a decade. Globally acclaimed for his insights into AI’s role in education, Mark has guided thousands of educators and school leaders worldwide. As the force behind the influential ICT Evangelist blog and a prolific author, Mark’s work is a beacon for transformative educational practices. For pioneering digital education strategies.
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In next week’s Leading Your International School Principal’s Blog, David Gregory – CEO of Xcursion Safety, writes about ‘What Are You Risking When It Comes to Activities Outside the Classroom?’