AI : an Intelligent New Approach to Teaching?

James Carroll, Director of Education UK, Cognita

James Carroll, Director of Education UK, Cognita

In June 2019, when I was first introduced to some tools that would make AI in the classroom a reality, I remember thinking that technology to help teachers make purposeful interventions and bring learning to life for students seemed too good to be true.

Fastforward to 2021 and we have launched AI-powered learning tools in 45 of our schools, across Spain, Switzerland and the UK. While our journey with AI started during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has now become an important part of our teaching and learning more generally. This academic year alone, our students have answered over five million questions on our AI platform!

One of the biggest challenges for us was figuring out how to take our people on this digital journey. Not only were we navigating remote learning for the students in our care during a global pandemic, this wasall new for our teachers in terms of professional development as well. There was no one-size-fits-all solution. We had to be flexible and look at the needs of each of our individual schools to determine the training and support they would need to turbo-charge remote professional development.

Since our schools all had very different starting points, with some able to move forward very quickly and others requiring a more gradual pace, we focused on building connected school communities to provide peer support and navigate the changes together. For example, Hastings School in Spain has built a solid digital strategy and vision over time that is now a core part of the school’s evolution, and they’ve been able to share their expertise with schools that are earlier on in their digital journey. That support and sharing of knowledge is absolutely key for us.

"Access to high-quality resources, the auto-marked question banks and the ability to automatically personalise learning can all play a role in minimising teacher workload."

Another thing we established quite quickly was that a full school rollout was not going to work, so we instead identified a year group or a department that could spearhead the implementation, because cascading early experience. This was highly effective. Our Digital Education Advisors work closely with colleagues in schools to identify pioneers and champions within the classroom, which has really enabled us to build momentum, rally the teams and move schools on at a pace that suits them, all while delivering that high-quality online learning experience. 

Our main areas of focus over the next two to three years are going to be around some specific areas. Obviously, EdTech is to be one of them, as we’ve already seen its huge potential. We'll also be looking at how we can further develop our digital professional development offering to help teachers use the data provided to them through EdTech to make purposeful interventions and bridge the learning gap after a very disruptive 18 months. AI will play a clear role in that because the way the platform provides data is second to none. You can look at group level, then at a school level, and then teachers can also look at it down to the class and individual student level.

From a teacher's perspective, having immediate access to the depth and breadth of data the AI platform provides reduces time spent collating it through other means. Access to high-quality resources, the auto-marked question banks and the ability to automatically personalise learning can all play a role in minimising teacher workload. It all supports our focus to use technology not only to boost academic outcomes, but also to improve student and teacher wellbeing.

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