Regardless of whether school leaders feel excited or troubled about artificial intelligence (or somewhere in between), they hold a critical responsibility: to ensure AI is approached thoughtfully and appropriately in our schools. In the wake of repeated calls for guidance, our respective organisations recently collaborated on a brief guide to help leaders get to grips with it and lead their schools through the current technological revolution.
What it is and what it isn’t
AI is a branch of computer science aimed at creating machines that mimic human intelligence. It’s used to perform tasks that usually require human thought, like understanding language, recognizing patterns or making decisions. It uses a base of information (often a very large base) combined with algorithms to perform these tasks.
AI is an increasingly powerful tool, but it is not magic. Understanding how it works is critical for educators who have the dual responsibility of using AI-enabled tools in teaching and learning, and teaching students about the positive, ethical use and creation of AI in their own lives.
Perhaps more importantly, AI is not human intelligence. It does not possess emotions, consciousness or inherent ethical judgement. It is not ‘thinking’ in the same way a human does, nor assessing right from wrong. In the case of generative AI, we see this most starkly in the technology’s widely reported ‘hallucinations’.
School leaders are not alone in finding themselves a little adrift with AI, and it might feel tempting to ignore it until you have more time or more resources. But it simply cannot be ignored: many students and teachers are already using it.
Having said that, it’s important to avoid knee-jerk reactions. For example, anti-cheating tools which supposedly identify AI-created writing have proven notoriously unreliable and discriminatory to non-native English speakers.
Further, a wholesale overhaul of curriculum is inadvisable right now. Too much is unknown about how AI will impact jobs and skills, and the situation is moving quickly. However, it would be wise to consider how you’re embedding digital citizenship and computational thinking within your current curriculum to help students navigate present and future technologies.
In addition, there are three key actions you can take right now to prepare yourself and your school to learn and develop in the AI era.
One of the most important things you can do is to learn more about it, conceptually and practically. There’s a variety of courses, newsletters and discussion communities appearing, including some spearheaded by our organisations (TDT and ISTE). You might set up a learning group, perhaps with your school leadership team or a group of school leaders, including board members or governors.
It’s likely that AI is sparking strong feelings of excitement, fear and confusion among your staff. Make space for educators to discuss and play out scenarios, perhaps by involving teachers in a series of discussions exploring the pros and cons of various uses of AI at your school.
For example, you might discuss ways you could teach students about using generative AI and other technologies for good. What might be the limitations and risks they would need to take account of, even when using technology with positive intention? What would be the implications for the ways that your staff would need to learn about the technology themselves?
Alongside a space for discussion, it’s useful for staff to have a chance to experience thecapabilities and limitations of AI tools. As a school leader, you can encourage exploration of AI by staff in order to gain first-hand experience using the technology. You might ask your research or technology lead to organise a ‘sandbox’ exercise where colleagues can have a go with one or more of the emerging generative AI tools.
Our guidance document, Understanding AI For School: Tips For School Leaders includes an illustrative list of generative AI tools, and a more in-depth FAQ about the use of AI in schools.
We hope it’ll help the sector feel a little less daunted and better equipped to chart a course through this new wave of technological disruption.