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Used Properly AI Could Revolutionise Education

Used Properly AI Could Revolutionise Education

There are few areas of life where AI could be deployed to better effect, or worse, than education. As the sector takes tentative steps towards more efficient admin and delivering a more personalised learning experience through AI Dootrix’s CTO, Kev Smith, talks to partners in-the-know about the potential and the pitfalls.

I think we should be talking more about the power of technology to transform education. Dootrix is looking at working with Derby College, a further education provider, with a focus on vocational skills, to introduce AI to support teachers and administrators. With around 1500 staff it’s responsible for launching the careers of countless thousands of students.

Yet, despite having worked with educational institutions like the University of Nottingham over a number of years, the spotlight tends to fall on our work with clients like Heathrow, and GRIDSERVE.

Tech in education is actually a breakfast table topic in our household because, Amy, my other half, is a teacher. And while we certainly don’t spend every morning talking about it, it’s something we’re both interested in.

I thought it would be interesting to gather some thoughts both from Amy that capture the flavour our conversations about the potential of AI in education, from some of our colleagues at Derby College and from AI expert Lee Mallon.

Amy: It’s quite easy to envisage at least some of what AI could do. It has the power to transform classroom experiences - for instance by allowing teachers to create bespoke resources to bring areas of the curriculum to life. Take teaching the Great Fire of London to six year olds; it could be brought to life with comic strip diaries that would previously have been beyond the ability of most teachers to create - especially quickly! But now these can be made, bespoke for each class in very little time.

Ian McCormick, Director of IT at Derby College:  What gets me excited about AI? As with any technology it’s the impact it can have. Seeing it positively change a lesson, seeing it inspire students, knowing that cumulatively the effects will be seen in engagement, knowledge retention, achievement rates and attendance figures. Small changes, applied at scale can have a huge impact and this has the potential to be a huge change at scale.

Steve Ford, Edtech Manager at Derby College: I see the role of AI as a tool for generating ideas, being creative, considering differing viewpoints are all essential aspects of higher order thinking skills. The opportunity for staff and students to fine tune a personalised learning experience has never been so apparent to develop students from different starting points to help them make progress.

Amy: Exactly this. I think we are heading towards highly personalised learning - but this would require huge shifts in the way we approach education and our current one size fits all, high stakes assessment approach. A lot of my time as a teacher is spent creating resources. To be able to reduce that time significantly would be life changing.

Lee Mallon, author of DKR - Hyper-Personalised AI: I agree with Amy about the personalised learning benefits of AI. It goes beyond productivity gains by incorporating individual human behaviours into hyper-personalised learning. AI can tailor education to students' learning styles and use relatable, relevant metaphors to enhance knowledge absorption. There are 23 areas of human cognition that can be optimised for learning because of AI.

Amy: A caveat though; I have used Canva with varied levels of success - sometimes it has been easier to start again from scratch. My worry, as always with teaching, is that it will end up creating more work for teachers, not less.

Glyn Pickering, Advanced Practitioner specialising in AI at Derby College: We can only really hope that AI can bring efficiency and reduce pressure on staff workloads. The personalisation of learning has always been a challenge to teachers as it is resource heavy, however the ability for teachers and more importantly students to interact with material in a way of their choosing to reach the same outcome, is very exciting. Students can effectively scaffold their own learning in a much more individualised way, and this allows teachers to develop those students in a way technology has never allowed before.

Ian: Agreed. I think that AI is unlikely to have huge impact on pedagogy by, say, the end of the decade. We are seeing public AI services, Co-pilot and other generative AI solutions play a part in the classroom and in course preparations. This will be scope creep, in my opinion.

Amy: For our youngest children, who I currently teach, it is harder to imagine the impact of AI as they will still need to learn the basics of reading, maths, fine motor skills and social skills… so while their learning may be influenced by AI, the basics will surely stay more or less the same.

Ian: The larger scale changes are going to come in decision making, monetising our own data to make the right choices, or more informed choices, first time. There are already immediate savings there.

On a larger scale, what if you could combine your data and apply external data, benchmarking data, best practice guidance and fiscal parameters to how your institution works and identify “the most effective way to teach”. Identify what works and doesn’t work. A superpower – X-ray vision into your own organisation to see how you perform. Replicate good, improve the poor. Maximise funding through optimisation, rather than efficiency exercises. This is where I see a more rapid maturity curve in the use of AI and machine learning. More akin and aligned to corporate business practices and back-office function. Using predictive analytics and AI to model what your business could look like and see the potential impact on your bottom-line figure before proceeding.

Steve: Social mobility is high on our agenda and a key part of our overarching strategy. Providing positive and timely interventions at points where we can predict or identify a drop in attendance or performance would be far more beneficial than, for instance, using machine learning and trend analysis over historic data as a way of predicting achievement.

Ian: I’d like to think that education would embrace AI quickly because of the impact it can have on learners’ lives, on their journey, on their destinations. I’m also a realist with over 25 years in the education sector and I see a cautious approach to embedding AI into educational practices. Teaching is based on more than a century of academic research, and nobody is going to throw out that bath water without a wealth of research and proof of the benefits.

So take steps early. Maturation is likely to be slow and steady. Find a small area to test with it and fail fast. We know these waves of technology are coming. The combination of that data and our ability to refine the outcomes will yield extra-ordinary results. But to think that ultimately, education will be different is likely to be a flawed opinion.

From my point of view, as someone who has helped dozens of organisations introduce technology over the years, a client knowing where they want to get to, even if they don’t know how, is also an advantage. It helps to have an idea of what the available technology, in this case AI, can do and what it can’t and that’s one of a number of reasons why it’s very useful to bring in an expert to show you how to use it well – you spend a little to gain a lot.

But lastly I can’t entirely separate my role helping clients in education from my experience as a parent. As most parents know the way our children develop is above all shaped by their interaction with other people; parents, teachers, classmates. If I was looking for a guiding principle for the use of AI in education is that it should aim to make learning and development more human and not less. If we can achieve that we’ll have done well by the generations that follow us.


Working in the education sector? Excited by the possibilities offered by AI? So are we at Dootrix. Talk to us about how we’ve worked with partners in education to do it right.