DfE examines risks and benefits of generative AI

The use of articificial intelligence (AI) for cheating will become ever more sophisticated in future, and teachers will need help to identify and manage pupils’ use of the technology, according to the Department for Education (DfE). The warning comes in a new report from the DfE’s Open Innovation Team, Generative AI in education: educator and expert views, which is based on interviews with teachers, academics and experts in the education technology (EdTech) industry.

Generative AI (GenAI) uses foundation models, including large language models (LLMs), trained on large volumes of data. These models underpin chatbots such as ChatGPT and Bing Chat, and can be used to produce artificially generated content such as text, audio, code, images and videos. The use of such technology is on the increase among both pupils and school staff. Highlighted in the report is a poll from the Teacher Tapp app from November 2023 which showed that nearly half (42 per cent) of primary and secondary teachers had used GenAI as part of their role – up from 17 per cent just seven months earlier in April 2023. Meanwhile 74 per cent of online 16-24 year olds in the UK have used a GenAI tool.

As well as the likely risks, the DfE team also note there is significant potential for GenAI to benefit the education sector - from helping teachers save time by automating tasks, to improving teaching effectiveness by personalising learning for students. Such benefits may not be fully realised however, due to barriers to adoption such as poor digital skills and infrastructure. The report argues that GenAI could exacerbate the ‘digital divide’ in education and there is already an emerging difference in adoption of GenAI between state and independent schools. It calls on the government to consider how to support access to AI and GenAI technology by educators and students across the education system.

Given the rapidly evolving nature of GenAI, the report’s authors say a strategy is needed to set the direction for GenAI (and AI more broadly) in education. Long-term planning should explore how AI could change the current model of education, including implications for the role of teachers and classroom-based learning. Any strategy should respond to the challenges GenAI presents for the sector and be future proofed to keep pace with technological advancement. They also argue it should be grounded in educator and learner needs, guided by educational objectives, and tailored to different educational stages.

Other recommendations in the report include looking at the way in which workforce requirements such as skills and qualifications will need to change as AI becomes a permanent part of the education landscape, and AI literacy initiatives aimed at young children to aid their understanding. Experts who spoke to the DfE for the report also emphasised that there is currently little robust evidence on the impact of GenAI tools in education, and urged the need to build an impartial evidence base to better understand this. Key evidence gaps include the impact of GenAI on learner outcomes, particularly among disadvantaged and SEND learners.

Referencing the research report during an address to the Bett 2024 education technology exhibition, secretary of state Gillian Keegan said: ‘We should have the same expectations for robust evidence in EdTech as we do elsewhere in education. EdTech businesses should be leading the way, being transparent with buyers and promoting products based on great evidence…..I want to encourage countries to continue sharing evidence as it’s generated, so we can all better harness the opportunities to make a real difference in classrooms across the world.’

Full report: http://tinyurl.com/mr33k7td

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