Monthly Newsletter

The national centre for AI in tertiary education: October newsletter

Update on the centre’s work 

Expanding the team. This month, the national centre for AI welcomed Zahara Ward to the team as our Project Manager. The Centre is also currently recruiting for the position of AI Technologist. 

Understanding the sector’s problems (and the solutions AI could pose)The Centre is currently designing a series of consultations with colleges and universities to understand the problems they face at a granular level, for instance around workload. The aim of this series is to identify any common and critical issues that could be addressed by AI, and therefore enable the Centre to facilitate purposeful innovation across the sector. 

Planning and preparing for the chatbot pilot. The Centre has made progress with planning and preparations for the chatbot pilot. We have developed a project plan, designed the evaluation process, and began sourcing pilot institutions. We look forward to updating you once the pilot has been formally launched, and to sharing insights into the efficacy of chatbots. 

Advancing the responsible governance of AI in education. In line with the Government’s National AI Strategy, the Centre believes that responsible governance is key if AI is to have a sustainable impact on society. Accordingly, we plan to hold a number of Responsible Design Forums in order to aid the ethical design of chatbots and to help the sector understand how ethical principles can be put into practice. Our intention is to publish a report upon completion of the pilot that will help colleges and universities make ethical choices around their own use of chatbots, and AI in general. 

Community events. The Centre held a community event earlier this month, in which we focused on the applications of AI for adaptive learning. During the meeting, we discussed various ways in which AI systems were adapting to learners’ needs, including the use of data insights to recommend courses to students, to tailor a learners’ passage through a particular course, and also to personalise the learning material that is used to teach students. As a group, we generally agreed that adaptive learning platforms should supplement, rather than replace human-led teaching; and it was also felt that strong pedagogical practices needed to be baked in to adaptive learning systems as part of their design process. 

AI in the news 

As discussed in this article from The Times, AI could be successfully used to estimate the ages of social media users to within 1.5 years. It is anticipated that this could be instrumental in helping the protection of younger internet users. 

The use of facial recognition software in school canteens has been suspended by a number of Scottish schools after concerns were raised by the Information Commissioner’s Office.  

Thought for the month 

For this edition of thought for the month we want to flip things around and give you a chance to do the thinking. This exercise will help the Centre tune in to your priorities around the uses of AI. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.  

From the high-level questions below, please pick the one that most piques your interest (feel free to pick more than one if you’d like) and spend a little time mulling it over. When you’ve come up with an answer, please email your response to  

  • Assessment. How should technologies that automate assessments be used so that they enhance teaching and learning, and don’t undermine the role of educators in the assessment process? (We’re excited by the potential of AI to reduce teacher workload and increase the volume of feedback students can expect; but we’re also concerned that overuse of automated assessment could undermine educators’ role in the assessment process. How do you think the right balance should be struck?) 
  • Automation. What tasks – currently completed by educators or other members of staff – are ripe for automation? (AI promises to reduce workload in education institutions, thereby freeing up time to support students in more effective ways. In your view, which tasks should be priorities for automation? These are likely to be tasks that are time consuming and repetitive tasks, but also ones that humans could step back from without adversely affecting students)
  • Barriers to adoption? What is the biggest barrier to the adoption of AI in the tertiary education sector? (Candidates for the biggest barrier could be: the AI in Education market is not yet mature enough, there is not enough evidence yet on the impacts of AI in education, institutions need to be upskilled in order to use AI effectively, data presents the main barrier, or ethical and legal concerns impede AI adoption. In your view, what is the biggest barrier and why?) 

By Tom Moule

Product Lead at The National Centre for AI in Tertiary Education

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