AI

Why we’re thoughtfully optimistic about the place of GenAI in education

A year since ChatGPT, there are reasons to be optimistic about its careful implementation in education

A year since ChatGPT, there are reasons to be optimistic about its careful implementation in education

28 Nov 2023, 5:00

Incredibly, it’s just 12 months since generative AI (GenAI) burst into mainstream consciousness with the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022. 

And when I’m asked how I think schools and teachers will adapt to it, my answer is: they already are

We’re hearing about time being set aside to teach students things like prompt craft, to experiment with creating online quizzes, and even joint marking with such tools.  

Leaders at Denbigh High School and Chiltern Learning Trust are implementing an AI steering group this year, which will support staff at all levels and ensure students can use AI safely, strategically and impactfully. 

And let’s be realistic: we know that many students are aware of, and already using GenAI in different ways.  

Protecting space for creativity in curriculum

Pearson are exploring the technology’s impact in three areas: curriculum, teaching and learning, and assessment. 

As a starting point in curriculum, students need ‘AI literacy’ – so they can judge the reliability, quality and truthfulness of GenAI, and know the place it can take in their learning and the world around them.  

This is the reason we recently introduced EPQ:AI as a pathway within our EPQ, and as a first step towards this. It aims to equip students with the skills to critically evaluate the use and outputs of GenAI. 

When we think ahead to the future careers of students today, we know their jobs will look different from the current landscape as technology continues to advance, as our recent research shows. 

What this brings into focus is the importance of the most human skills, such as creativity and critical thinking. We have an opportunity to design our education system to cover the explicit teaching of what it means to be a critical thinker and to create original pieces of work. 

Benefits for personalised learning and teaching 

In teaching and learning, the opportunity with GenAI is for more personalisation and the benefits that will bring. Already, we’ve found in our Pearson School Report that nearly half (45 per cent) of educators expect to see an increased use of AI and GenAI in school. 

As an example, Pearson recently launched a beta of three e-textbooks for students in the US. In Chemistry, the AI gives students step-by-step prompts to work through tough equations – rather than just giving them answers. This helps scaffold students’ learning, aiding their understanding of the material and it opens up possibilities to give students more bespoke accessibility support.  

It’s also worth remembering that the use of non-generative AI already has an established place in education. It’s been part of how we work at Pearson for years, for example with our adaptive learning service for key stage 2 maths, and the AI-powered online classroom for our tutoring service. 

As the technology evolves, GenAI tools will allow more time for teachers to work directly with students by freeing them from administrative tasks. But finding the right balance will be important. Lesson planning and marking, for example, are often helpful processes for teachers.  

GenAI’s place in high-stakes exams 

Finally, when it comes to high-stakes assessment, the approach to GenAI will need a system-wide conversation and we’re already working closely with our colleagues at other exam boards as part of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ). Here at Pearson, we see the rise of GenAI only increases the value of externally set and validated exams.  

In exam marking, AI could help mark some of the more straightforward, tick-box, multiple choice questions in exam papers. AI could also help with quality assurance. In both instances, this would we free up expert marker time to focus on more complex and/or long-form answers. 

This is part of a natural progression, from the introduction of bar codes as identifiers, to every exam page being digitised before being sent to examiners, through to the use of technology to provide performance data back to schools.

There will always be an important place for humans in the process, and everyone in the sector (including students and families) will need to have full confidence that these tools can maintain quality, trust and reliability.  

Navigating GenAI together 

Finding ways to safely introduce GenAI tools needs to involve regulation, training, policies and support for everyone. There are issues to navigate to ensure that when we use these tools they are truthful, reliable, safe, fair and can be trusted for the purpose we set.  

Yet, when thoughtfully developed and implemented, GenAI can have a positive impact on students and teachers. Its improvement over time can only benefit teaching, learning and assessment.  

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