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Maddie Kilminster - 31 October, 2023

Category : Blog

Three ways schools are using AI to transform the way they work

AI is astounding, controversial, and here to stay. In this blog, I look at how it is already being used by schools, and what it might mean in the longer term. AI in the classroom Teachers have proven to be early adopters of ChatGPT as a tool for generating lesson resources. English teachers quickly spotted

AI in schools

AI is astounding, controversial, and here to stay. In this blog, I look at how it is already being used by schools, and what it might mean in the longer term.

AI in the classroom

Teachers have proven to be early adopters of ChatGPT as a tool for generating lesson resources.

English teachers quickly spotted the opportunity to create model texts. One of the earliest examples was using ChatGPT to draft similar content in various styles – like three versions of the same news story, one written by a journalist, one by Shakespeare, and one in the style of a song lyric.

Another of my favourite examples was hearing from a teacher who uses ChatGPT to generate distractors (wrong answers) for their multiple-choice quizzes. It turns out this is very useful as it can be surprisingly tricky to come up with convincing but incorrect answers.

AI can also be used to create a more personalised experience for students – even if that’s just including a student’s name in an example text, or quickly generating a quiz that specifically suits a group of pupils or a topic.

These approaches save time for teachers and allow them to be creative, using AI in a relatively low-risk way.

AI for homework and research

As soon as ChatGPT arrived there was a debate about whether it should be allowed in schools. Some schools and trusts took the cautious approach, and banned it from their networks.

This is similar to the debate about mobile phones, and before that calculators – and the truth is it’s too early to know which of those technologies AI is more akin to when it comes to the impact and use in the classroom.

But whatever you do in school, you can’t stop students from having access to ChatGPT and other AI tools at home.

One idea I liked is telling students that they have to use ChatGPT for a piece of homework. This gives them the opportunity to try it, and see the pros and cons. That’s a great way of engaging with a new technology, and having a productive and open conversation about it. The truth is there are lots of things that ChatGPT is not great at, and students need to learn about that too.

ChatGPT can also be an excellent research tool for students. There’s a lot of benefit to learning through conversation (as we know from teaching and learning in the classroom). I’ve personally found it really useful when I’ve got a specific question about a topic. It can be much more useful than reading through a wikipedia article or searching for answers via Google. Of course you have to be mindful of AI hallucinations and bias, and think carefully about the types of topics to use it for.

My daughter has learnt a lot at her primary school about using Google search effectively and safely. I’d love to hear from schools that have taught similar skills for ChatGPT, as part of encouraging students to then use it for research.

AI in the school office

School leaders and administrators have also seen the potential of AI.

Tools like ChatGPT, Bard, Office Co-pilot and Copy.ai are a great way to create a first draft of something – like a letter to parents or a piece of newsletter content. Schools have to produce a lot of writing – for lessons, for stakeholders, for their community, for governors… the list never ends.

Another example is student reports. Lots of schools use comment banks for this, and that exercise can be quite a copy-paste process. With AI the teacher can enter a summary set of bullets about the student, and get the system to draft a full report which they can then edit.

It’s very hard to write well at pace, so these tools can really help.

We’re also seeing these features added to the tools that schools already use – with Ask Arbor being a great example. It allows schools to draft communications and student reports, based on their input and the data already held in the MIS.

What is the future of AI in schools?

I like these smart and pragmatic examples, where the generated text is time-saving and very useful, and where there is always a person reviewing and adapting the output.

It is very early days for tools like ChatGPT, and over the coming months and years we’re going to see rapid improvement in the technology itself, along with better understanding and regulation.

We’re also going to see lots of new AI-powered products and features across all areas of education and work. We’ll probably look back nostalgically at the simpler days when all we spoke of was “ChatGPT”.

What might that future look like? A few idea that interest me are:

Increasingly sophisticated personalised tutoring

Duolingo already offers an AI chatbot that helps learners by discussing incorrect answers and doing roleplays. And teachers are already experimenting with tools that allow students to have a conversation with an AI version of a subject expert or a historical figure.

How sophisticated could this become? It’s going to be fascinating to see. Imagine a student being able to have a 1-to-1 conversation with Albert Einstein about GCSE Physics. Being able to bring learning to life is exciting for both students and teachers.

Moving beyond the written word

Almost all of the focus over the last year has been on ChatGPT and the use of AI to understand and generate writing. But the same technology can also be applied to other content. Indeed, ChatGPT itself has just been updated so that it can both understand and generate images. AI is also already being used to generate music, and edit photographs, So while lots of the early use cases have been for subjects like English and the humanities, it is worth remembering that all the same opportunities and questions will come along for the other subjects too.

School operations

I think some of the most exciting opportunities for AI lie in the back office and in the operational running of schools and trusts. This technology is going to revolutionise the ways schools work with data, complete administrative tasks, and communicate. Schools will see lots of really useful features coming to their existing platforms like Microsoft Office and Google Workspace. And this is exactly what we’re thinking about across The Key Group too – in Arbor, GovernorHub, The Key, and beyond.