Jisc helps college staff unlock the power of AI to improve the learner experience


by Sue Attewell, head of AI and co-design at Jisc’s national centre for AI, advises on generative AI tools and how to use them

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These days, college staff face a new challenge: embrace AI and its potential to improve efficiency, or ignore it and risk being left behind.

Education is one of the fastest growing areas when it comes to the use of AI, but many teachers are still understandably anxious about adopting the technology. Keeping up with its rapid advances is difficult, and balancing its use with academic integrity is increasingly complex. 

Jisc’s national centre for AI can help
Since it was set up in 2021, Jisc’s National Centre for AI in tertiary education (NCAI) has been helping members unlock the power of AI in order to deliver a fantastic educational experience to every learner. 

We believe that giving college staff a basic understanding of how it works enables them to lean into the technology with confidence and use it to their best advantage.

Not all FE providers are at the same place on their journey to understanding and adopting AI-based tools, however, so the first priority must be to address the knowledge gaps. As AI experts, my team and I are uniquely placed to work together with colleges to help them understand and leverage the benefits of AI as part of wider digital strategies.

AI will transform teaching and learning
The reality is that we will be using AI in further education: avoiding it is impossible and banning its use is not an option, since its capabilities are already built into software that we all use every day such as document text editors, social media feeds, google maps directions, and Netflix, Spotify etc recommendations. 

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard certainly have a place in further education. Teaching is full of tasks that lend themselves to automation – and that’s what AI does best. Creating learning materials, designing courses, assisting with lesson planning: AI tools can help with all these things quickly and without friction.   The teacher will still need to review all outputs before using.

They can provide new ways to learn – for example, by suggesting ideas on how to start a piece of writing – and are often good at simplifying complex text. Teaching learners how to fact-check what they get out of them is always a valuable exercise.

They can also help assess how students are learning, suggest triggers to incentivise learners, and identify individuals who might be struggling. In addition, they have a vital role to play in both making learning more accessible for those with disabilities.  For example tools such as Teachermatic can help teachers design and deliver more inclusive and engaging lessons and Century tech provides personalised feedback and recommendations.  AI tools can help with converting text to speech and providing transcripts.

Example using Chat GPT:

Leaning into AI technology
Jisc’s NCAI provides a range of resources – reports and primers, online courses, webinars and pilot projects – to give a solid grounding to colleges considering their approach to AI. 

A good starting point is Jisc’s Generative AI primer which is updated quarterly to provide the very latest information on generative AI technology and tools, and their implications for education.  

Jisc’s AI maturity model makes it easier for institutions to understand where they are, where they want to get to, and what sort of activities might be needed in order to progress towards effective AI implementation.

The newly published AI in tertiary education 2023 report gives an overview of what AI can do for member organisations, where it can add the most value, and what to consider in order to implement it ethically, while A pathway towards responsible, ethical AI is designed to help navigate these complex issues with confidence. Jisc also provides a free mini MOOC to help members explore AI and ethics.

In addition, the NCAI regularly runs pilots with colleges, enabling staff to test the efficacy of new tools like TeacherMatic and AnyWyse while increasing their own familiarity with generative AI. 

Leveraging the power of the AI community
Empowering communities is a vital strand of the Jisc strategy for 2022-25, and Jisc’s NCAI has set up an AI community group where members can share best practice, learn more about AI and its uses in education, and connect with each other to find common solutions to shared problems. Facilitated by Jisc, the community is open to all members who are interested in the applications of AI in education.

FE practitioners can get involved by:

Laying the right foundations for AI use
Once the right foundations have been laid, AI can start delivering on its promise to transform the teaching and learning experience by alleviating the burden of administrative tasks for staff and providing personalised learning for students.

And FE colleges will be ready to take advantage of new AI applications as they emerge – which they will undoubtedly do.

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