Artificial Intelligence in the classroom?

There’s been quite a stir of interest this week around predictions made by Sir Anthony Seldon about the impact Artificial Intelligence in the classroom. At the core of his vision is the idea that AI will allow the best possible teaching skills to be wrapped up in programs that will interact with students, recognising expressions and responses and using adaptive methods.

Humans will, apparently, still have a role although this may be more about behaviour management. There are many questions raised by this vision and the knock-on implications are huge. Perhaps most striking is the thought that if AI is good enough to teach children, what jobs will there be that similar AI could not already be performing?

It’s not the first time that AI has been predicted to change the face of everyday life and it may happen. As yet, the best software managed to mimic the limited conversation of a 13 year old boy for five minutes, so a lot is going to have to change if the classroom revolution is to come true.

In the meantime, there is no question that technology is shaping education in the way that students work and interact with their peers. It’s probable that political changes will be the agents of transformation in the medium term, including the ongoing squeeze on funding for schools.

We don’t yet know what the impact of Brexit will be on the economy and the type of jobs available (although we do know young people are concerned about it). It seems more likely in short term that Edtech will have to respond to the changes in everyday life rather than be a driver of such radical change.

Trouble at MAT?

Here’s a question. What’s the impact on a typical school of joining a multi academy trust?

We all know the thinking behind them, a closer financial and management linkage would enable economies of scale and sharing of best practice. With all of the staff employed by the MAT they can move around to meet the shifting needs and other resources can be focused where they are needed most.

That’s the theory, but since 2010 when the Government started to push the MAT hard the results have been mixed. In its’ most recent report the Education Select Committee at the House of Commons reflected the concerns. The best MATs continue to deliver excellent result but others have actually seen standards decline. The high performing MATs tended to be in low to mid range of schools within a restricted geographic region.

In January, a report produced by the Education Policy Institute showed that while there are some differences in the level of per pupil spend on running costs and teaching costs they are not materially significant between local authority schools, single academy trusts and multi academy trusts. Concerns have also been raised about transparency in some of the larger MATs and a reduction in parental engagement.

So it has to be said that the report card must read “Could do better”.

However, and there is a however, lets go back to the question of the characteristics of a high performing MAT. Strong leadership, sound financial management are definitely required but also a guiding principle and vision for the teaching and learning that will be provided. This vision needs to be shared across all the schools in the MAT. We may still be seeing the pressure that modern blended families have worked through among the previously independent schools in the MAT.

Perhaps its time that MATs looked at how they can help staff and students feel part of the overall organisation. It may be that standardized access to IT resources and encouragement of collaborative working could help in that respect. Getting rid of a patchwork of different systems may also be a route to some of that promised cost cutting too!

Working together works

It’s been a subject of long debate. How important is it to teach students how to work together. In the working world, collaboration is vital and huge amounts of money are spent on team building events and team working courses. At the end of the day though for a school, student’s work is judged on its own merits and collaboration in exams is, well best said to be frowned on.

Now, thanks to NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts – funded from the National Lottery) the subject is being examined in more detail. In the report “Solved! Making the case for collaborative problem-solving”, the authors produce evidence that Collaborative Problem Solving does indeed raise attainment measured by standard tests and then look at the barriers that the approach faces. You can read the full report here.

They make the point that collaboration isn’t just problem solving in the company of others. To deliver the benefits students in a group have to have the chance to truly share information, ideas and questions without snap judgments being made. There may be a ‘right’ answer to the problem but over-specifying the route to reach the answer is what constrains collaboration.

The question then becomes, how do we enable students to tackle this kind of problem solving. We’ve all seen the stock photos of students sitting around a single computer pointing at something on the screen but that’s not the real world. There are virtual spaces where this collaboration can take place, OneNote Class Notebooks are one example.

If we want to instill the power of collaborative problem solving in students then we have to deliver a collaborative problem solving space.