In the constantly evolving education sector, the recent rapid increase in artificial intelligence (AI) technology is creating both opportunities and challenges for staff and students. It’s a trend that’s been turbocharged by the release of AI tools such as ChatGPT. These tools have allowed technology to transform the education landscape from something only used by IT professionals into a resource accessible by anyone.
It is important to remember that AI has been in use within the education sector for many years. It has played a pivotal role in personalising education by tailoring lessons to individual students' needs. The technology, often deployed through adaptive learning platforms, can identify a student's strengths and weaknesses, allowing educators to fine tune their instruction for maximum impact.
Additionally, AI has been instrumental in assisting students with special requirements. Through voice recognition and natural language processing, AI-powered applications provide real-time support to those with reading difficulties, making learning more inclusive and accessible. However, the ongoing democratisation of AI is also having some negative consequences.
Risk of plagiarism
Tools like ChatGPT empower students to complete assignments and essays with unprecedented ease. While this newfound convenience raises concerns about academic integrity and plagiarism, it also forces a rethink of the evolving role of educators in the digital age. To address this challenge, educational institutions must prioritise developing robust plagiarism-detection mechanisms while also emphasising the importance of originality and ethical research.
Impact on administrative roles
Another area of concern centres around administrative positions within schools and universities. With AI streamlining administrative tasks such as admissions, scheduling, and student record management, there are worries about potential job losses. However, while automation will inevitably transform certain roles, it is essential to remember that AI is a tool to enhance efficiency rather than a replacement for human oversight. Education institutions can allocate resources freed up by automation to more strategic and value-added tasks.
AI and educators
Some believe that students will be able to learn sets of materials by interacting with an AI-powered bot rather than a human. It’s important, though, to view AI as a tool that can complement and amplify a teacher’s capabilities rather than supplant them. AI's true potential lies in augmenting the teaching role by automating some tasks and providing personalised insights into student performance. This, in turn, allows teachers to redirect their efforts toward what matters most: fostering meaningful learning experiences and nurturing critical thinking skills.
The ongoing impact of AI
While it is sensible to acknowledge these concerns, it’s vital to also recognise the significant positive aspects of AI's increasing integration into education. Foremost among them is the liberation of teachers from the burdensome back-office administrative tasks that often consume much of their time. With AI handling administrative chores, educators can devote more of their energy to fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter, designing innovative lesson plans and engaging with students.
Also, AI-powered tools can assist teachers in adapting existing learning materials to cater to students of different ages and skill levels. What was once a time-intensive manual process can now be accomplished with greater efficiency, ensuring that educational content remains adaptable and accessible to diverse student populations.
In higher education, AI is also set to play an increasingly pivotal role in student management. From assessing student applications for courses to providing automated support throughout their academic journey. For example, AI chatbots could assist foreign students by responding to their questions in their native language, reducing language barriers and enhancing international students' sense of belonging.
Lessons from history
As both teachers and students consider the impact of AI in education, it can be useful to look back at history. When pocket calculators first emerged, there were fears that mathematics teachers would become obsolete. Yet these concerns proved unfounded as educators adapted to the technology and focused on teaching problem-solving skills rather than simple calculation.
Similarly, when the internet gained prominence in the 1990s, some speculated that teachers would be replaced by online resources. Once again, the resilience of educators prevailed as they harnessed the internet as a powerful tool for research and collaboration.
The same pattern is likely to emerge with AI. Rather than replacing teachers and lecturers, AI will empower them to explore new, innovative ways of working with students. AI's capacity to automate routine tasks, tailor instruction, and provide personalised support will result in better academic outcomes and a more enriching educational experience.
The integration of AI into the education sector will not occur without challenges, however its potential for positive transformation cannot be understated. While fears of academic integrity issues and job displacement are valid, they should not overshadow the liberating power of the technology in education.
By embracing AI as a valuable tool to enhance teaching and streamline administrative tasks, educators can unlock new possibilities for learning and usher in an era of more effective, student-centred education.
About the authors
Doug Townley is Atturra’s General Manager for Education, within the Business Applications team. He is a highly experienced senior executive at both the operational and strategic level. Doug is passionate about strategy development and execution coupled with the identification and realisation of new products and services. He has a successful record of innovation and thought leadership in the development of workforce solutions and the identification and development of global partnerships.
Brett Auton is Atturra’s K-12 Practice Lead for Education, within the Business Applications team. He is an experienced senior leader and manager with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. He also has a background in teaching, with strong education professional skills in IT strategy, business process improvement, digital pedagogies, education analytics, infrastructure and Microsoft technologies.