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E-powering up education: AI in education

Blog posted by: Rebecca Mace, senior lecturer in education at UWL, UCL SFHEA, 01 August 2023.

As a teacher, I am really excited about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform education. AI might feel like something incredibly sci-fi and futuristic, but a thoughtful, human-centred deployment of it within education is what is required.

Therefore, perhaps thinking of it more like an e-bike is helpful. The education system needs to focus on the ways it can augment human capabilities and enhance their journey – so, just as an e-bike provides assistance to a rider uphill, AI in education can support learners and educators by providing personalised learning experiences and delivering targeted feedback.

AI has the power to address some of the biggest challenges facing schools today, such as lack of pupil progress, rising teacher workload, and marking reliability – however, I am also keen that it is accessed in an equitable way with all schools having the potential to benefit.

Lack of pupil progress

One of the most pressing challenges facing schools is the lack of pupil progress. According to a recent report by the Sutton Trust, only one in five children from disadvantaged backgrounds reach the expected level of attainment in reading, writing, and mathematics by the end of primary school.

AI can help to address this challenge by providing personalised learning experiences for each student. AI-powered systems can analyse a student's individual strengths and weaknesses, and then tailor the learning materials and instruction accordingly. This can help students to learn more effectively and efficiently, and to make faster progress.

Furthermore, our understanding of ‘digital literacy’ has expanded over recent years at a rapid pace, and we now exist in a world where understanding how to use the likes of Excel or Word is as basic as using a pencil.

We need all young people to be able to be responsible and ethical users, understanding the positive and negative impacts that technology has on our day-to-day interactions, as well as being creative in its deployment. The education system is the prime place to do this, and equity is key. All young people need to be equipped to make choices in this environment.

Rising teacher workload

Another major challenge facing schools is the rising teacher workload. According to a recent survey by the National Education Union, 72% of teachers and leaders said their workload was "unacceptable". AI can help to reduce teacher workload by automating many of the administrative tasks that teachers currently have to do.

For example, AI can be used to mark work, provide timely feedback (both qualitative and quantitative), generate reports, and track student progress. This can free up teachers' time so that they can focus on what they do best: teaching.

Marking depth and quality

AI can also be a valuable tool in when used in conjunction with teachers/examiners. It can provide feedback far more quickly and efficiently than humans. 

Referring to large data sets means that it will be possible to identify areas where students need improvement more easily. Like a teacher, it can provide feedback that is tailored to individual students, providing them with the specific feedback they need to improve. We are moving towards a time when it will be possible to identify and address each and every pupil’s specific learning needs far more effectively than ever before.

The future of AI in education

There is great potential for this technology to revolutionise the way we teach and learn, helping help schools to overcome some of their biggest challenges. As a teacher, I am excited about the possibilities that AI offers.

However, while I believe that this technology has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of students, it is also fair to say that the use of AI is simply not a priority for the vast majority of schools. While it is true that some schools may be appointing Digital Senior Leaders, or Heads of AI, the day-to-day reality of educational provision for the vast majority of schools is a world away.

72% of teachers and leaders said their workload was "unacceptable". AI can help to reduce teacher workload by automating many of the administrative tasks that teachers currently do.

REBECCA MACE, SENIOR LECTURER IN EDUCATION AT UWL, UCL SFHEA

Access to devices and the internet is sorely lacking and is being further exacerbated by a deficit of digital support and training for teachers. As a result, digital inequality is a more than a significant issue in education and the resultant learning gap is only growing wider.

So – what now?

Desperately wanting to address this issue, educational charity and leader in technical and vocational learning, NCFE, has teamed up with Progressay to work on providing equitable access to advanced technology for all. Both have education, equity, and employability as key drivers and recognise that AI can offer many a real chance to boost their prospects.

Funded by the NCFE Assessment Innovation Fund, a charitable fund designed to help organisations develop new and innovative approaches to assessment, Progressay are trialling AI-assisted marking technology which has been specifically designed to boost the learner and help the teacher, rather than simply take over. Their recent trials have seen positive improvements in pupil progress and self-efficacy, marking accuracy, and staff workload.

Providing detailed, individualised feedback and clear suggestions for improvement has been proved to have the highest impact on pupil performance (EEF), and the attention to detail augmented marking can offer gives a level of insight into pupil work that is usually not an option for the majority. Progressay’s technology can do this many, many times over in just a few seconds, helping teachers in all schools to provide an elite level education.

While this may sound counter-intuitive in an article about EdTech, the truth is that teachers are the most effective vehicle for, well... teaching. The EEF reports that feedback adds eight months of additional pupil progress in a relatively short period of time, but rising workload, including marking, has led to a teacher retention crisis (1 in 5 teachers are currently considering leaving the profession).

Teachers are now some of the most overworked and thus stressed professionals in Britain. Yet, technology is supposed to make our lives easier – which is why we need technology that makes teaching more manageable.

This trial seeks to explore just that – can Progressay's new AI grading software reduce teacher workload without compromising the quality of essay marking?



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