Preparing for Tomorrow:
The Importance of AI Education Today

The Digital Downe-load #2

2 April 2024

In the second edition of The Digital Downe-load, Mrs Basnett (Director of Digital Learning) discusses the importance of AI education.

All the talk recently has been about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and it is indeed a growing presence in our lives and some say that it has the potential to transform the educational landscape. Yet, given that AI has actually been present for some time now, it is perhaps more appropriate to view its impact on education as an ongoing evolution rather than a sudden revolution. This nuanced shift underlines the importance of fostering AI literacy among our pupils, equipping them to adeptly navigate their futures. This blog post aims to highlight why understanding AI is not just advantageous but essential for our pupils.

When we talk about Artificial Intelligence, or AI, we are referring to machines which are designed to mimic human intelligence. AI allows computers “to learn and solve problems almost like a person”. This encompasses learning, reasoning, and self-correction. Unlike traditional computers that follow explicit instructions, AI systems learn from data, identifying patterns, and making decisions. AI is subtly shaping our digital experiences. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram curate content based on our interests. Netflix and Spotify learn from our preferences to suggest new shows or create personalised playlists. Technologies like facial recognition on smartphones and driver-assist features in cars are also AI-driven. AI is not just present; it’s embedded in our interactions, entertainment, and tools, learning from, and adapting to our behaviours. More than this, its use is embedded in environmental management, our justice system, travel, healthcare, and transport to name but a few areas.

However, what we are focusing on here are Language Models such as ChatGPT, Gemini, or Microsoft’s Copilot. It is with ChatGPT that the recent buzz about AI started. This is a generative AI Language Model that has been so successful because of the simplicity of its interface which allows for creating high-quality text, graphics, and videos in a matter of seconds. It’s a tool that non-coders can master which is why it is so powerful. It is even possible for a layman to write code using ChatGPT; all one needs is an idea and some creativity (more of which later).

In terms of education there are already online tools that teachers here at Downe House use on a daily basis with our pupils that incorporate narrow AI and machine learning into their functionality. Quizlet and Century Tech for example personalise the learning based on responses given. Kahoot, Edpuzzle, and Duolingo have similar functionality to create unique learning paths. These tools have been enhancing the educational experience for the pupils for some time now and these are only going to get better.

Of course, like a human, AI is complex, and as well as recognising the benefits it is important to be aware of the drawbacks too. This includes ethical concerns relating to the handling of sensitive information, inherent biases, and the potential for errors; AI does make mistakes, it hallucinates, and it is left to the user to be sensitive to this and to be able to verify AI output. For our pupils, recognising the limitations of AI is just as important as knowing how to master the art of promptcraft when using Language Models. To be ready for a future where AI will be omnipresent and integral to virtually every aspect of life, critical thinking will be a crucial skill, as will the soft skills of communication, collaboration, and resilience because these skills empower us to navigate AI interactions.

Now, about ideas and creativity… With AI already tackling some of the more humdrum aspects of jobs at lightning speeds there is more time for creativity, iteration, experimentation, exploration, and other higher-order cognitive tasks. Opportunities for pupils to develop these skills must be explored as we prepare our pupils for their tomorrow. We are not only training them to understand how to use AI but also cultivating and nurturing their ingenuity and adaptability – qualities essential for leadership and innovation in a world augmented by artificial intelligence.

Given the critical role that AI is set to play in the future, we, as educators, must equip our pupils with practical applications to harness this remarkable tool effectively. This has very much been at the forefront of our discussions, guiding us toward thoughtful approaches to integrating AI into the curriculum. We have not rushed to adopt the integration of AI use but instead, have moved forward with deliberate caution, exploring a variety of options in an effort to use AI purposefully. Our explorations have included evaluating AI-generated model essays with a keen eye on detail and veracity, designing prompts for generating images that accurately reflect a deep knowledge of a topic and using AI as a personal tutor. This latter allows pupils to grasp concepts more thoroughly, dive deeper into their studies and receive that personalised learning that significantly boosts their comprehension and engagement.

The coming of age of AI means that in helping our pupils be ready for their tomorrows, we, the educators, are refocusing what we are doing today. These are exhilarating times as we endeavour to cultivate environments that encourage creative thinking, inspire innovation, and allow for a deeper understanding of the digital world. Our commitment to integrating AI thoughtfully into the curriculum stresses our dedication to arming pupils with the skills and ethical understanding necessary to embark and succeed in an ever-changing society.

Click here to discover more about Digital Excellence at Downe House.

Mrs Jane Basnett
Director of Digital Learning, Teacher of French

Mrs Basnett trained at Goldsmiths and after over 25 years of teaching she is still learning new things and loves being in the classroom. She started at Downe House in 2008 as Head of Modern Foreign Languages and since then technology has become increasingly important in education. Mrs Basnett’s role of Director of Digital Learning allows her to share her expertise in the area of educational technology with the Downe House community.

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