AI trends in the FE and Skills Sector round up 2023

2 February 2024

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Our Access to HE Product Development Manager John Earland discusses the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in the Further Education and Skills Sector is a topic of growing importance so in this month’s blog I thought I would take a look at the latest AI trends and background surrounding this in the education sector.


Demand for AI skills and jobs


The demand for AI skills has tripled in the past 10 years and continues to grow at pace. AI jobs are well-paid and high-value, with machine learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP), Deep Learning, Computer Vision, and TensorFlow (an open source tool for machine learning) being particularly sought after.  The use of AI therefore in teaching, learning and assessment must follow to cater for this demand.  Learners venturing into the world of work or Higher Education must have experience of, and be proficient in, the use of AI.  Using AI in education will become as normal as using a chalkboard was back in the day.  Remember, the chalkboard was once held up as the most significant development in teaching and learning!  AI will be the same.


Adapting the curriculum


In response to the increasing prevalence of AI, there is a notable emphasis on adapting the curriculum to integrate AI-relevant skills. The UK Parliament’s POSTnote outlines the incorporation of AI concepts, such as machine learning and data analysis, into educational programmes to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills to engage with and leverage AI technologies effectively. For instance, universities are introducing modules on AI ethics, AI-driven decision-making, and the development of AI applications in education.  From a specific Access to HE point of view here at The Skills and Education Group, there is a new ‘Safe and Ethical Use of AI’ unit which will be available for all our Access to HE Providers to use from September 2024.  Here students will be able to explore the benefits and pitfalls of using AI during their Level 3 and beyond studies.  Contact for more details.


Impact on human roles and skills


The integration of AI in the education sector has implications for human roles and skills. As AI becomes more prevalent in educational delivery and assessment, there is a need to consider the potential impact on the roles of educators and the skills required to effectively use AI in teaching and learning. The House of Lords Library highlights that the use of AI in schools and educational institutions will require educators to be significantly upskilled to be able to utilise AI-powered learning tools and platforms confidently and effectively, as well as to adapt teaching methods to complement AI-driven educational delivery. This includes training educators in the use of AI for personalised learning, adaptive assessment, and data-driven insights to support student progress.  This is already happening in some FE institutions where some tutors, teaching and learning mentors and managers are experimenting with the latest developments.


Low usage of AI tools


Despite the potential benefits of AI in education, the current usage of AI tools in the UK education sector is relatively low. The UK Parliament’s POSTnote emphasises the need to explore and expand the use of AI for education delivery and assessment, indicating that while there are pockets of innovation, the widespread integration of AI in educational practices is still in its early stages. For example, AI-powered tutoring systems, adaptive learning platforms, and intelligent learning and assessment tools are being piloted in some educational settings, but their broader adoption is limited by factors such as access to resources, training, and concerns around data privacy and ethics.  Whilst this is perfectly understandable; there are indeed real concerns, this should not stop exploration of AI in teaching, learning and assessment.  Indeed, it might even be fun!


Skills shortage and AI ambitions


The Royal Academy of Engineering has drawn attention to a skills shortage in computing that could hinder the UK’s ability to meet its AI ambitions. The Academy’s report underscores the insufficient number of young people choosing digital and computing subjects, posing a challenge to the country’s aspirations in AI. This shortage has implications for the education sector, as there is a growing need for educators with expertise in AI, as well as a demand for educational programmes that can attract and prepare students for careers in AI and related fields.


The role of AI writing in education


The use of AI in writing has been a hot topic of debate, with some questioning its potential to replace human creativity. Indeed, the Skills and Education Group has hosted recent Teach Meets and Hot Topic events on these which have been very well attended.  There’s a lot of interest!

While AI writing tools like ChatGPT have shown promise, there are limitations to their current capabilities. For instance, ChatGPT has been criticised for generating generic text with little regard for accuracy or content. You’d be surprised how easily you can spot a verbatim lifted ChatGPT generated piece of writing.  Despite this, AI writing programmes are not expected to replace novelists or visionary writers, as human creativity and the unique visions of authors are highly valued.  Could AI really produce a script as visionary, inspirational and humorous as one written by someone like Russel T Davies? Maybe one day, but we are still a long way off that.   As I script writer myself, I have been involved most recently in the editing of scripts which have been written by generative AI.  Whilst you might think this reduces creativity, the opposite is actually true, though admittedly, the scripts I have edited have been for instructional videos. However, for me, it means that I can concentrate on communicating the message and learning outcomes in a way that makes the AI generated content engaging and human, whilst the AI has been extremely useful in ensuring the coverage of the content is comprehensive.  In short, it has saved a huge amount of research time, allowing me to focus on the creative and ‘fun’ element!


The future of AI in education


As AI continues to evolve, its role in education is expected to grow. Some of the specific AI tools that are currently of interest and being experimented with in the UK include ChatGPT, DALLE-2, CoPilot, and Google Bard, but there are many others too. These tools have the potential to transform assessment practices by providing faster feedback and supporting differentiated learning for students, such as simplifying verb tenses, providing a glossary of vocabulary, or generating sentence stems.  The advantage of having AI generate sentence stems for learning lies in its potential to provide valuable scaffolding and support for students. AI-generated sentence stems can serve as a starting point for students, helping them to organise their thoughts and express their ideas more effectively. Additionally, AI-generated sentence stems can be tailored to different ability levels, providing levelled support for students as they develop their language skills. This can be particularly beneficial for English language learners, as it can help support language development and make academic materials more approachable and accessible. Furthermore, AI-generated sentence stems can be used to provide grammatical assistance, supporting students in improving their writing and language acquisition.

DALL-E 2, is an advanced AI model developed by OpenAI.  It has the potential to significantly impact teaching, learning, and assessment. It can provide educators with a powerful tool for creating visual learning materials, supporting assessment practices, and promoting creativity and imagination in the classroom. DALL-E 2 can be used to generate a wide range of visual content, including images and artwork, which can be valuable for creating visually engaging learning materials. Additionally, it can be used to create custom visual learning resources tailored to specific teaching objectives, providing more engaging and personalised learning experiences for students. Furthermore, DALL-E 2 can be used to create visual assessment materials, such as quizzes, assignments, and tests, which can be particularly beneficial for subjects that require visual representation, such as art, design, and other creative disciplines. Overall, DALL-E 2 has the potential to enhance learning resources and provide valuable support for both students and educators.

The integration of AI tools, such as generative AI and AI-powered learning platforms, presents opportunities to enhance the learning experience for both tutors and learners. It can help scaffold the learner journey and experience and should never be allowed to get in the way.  However, it also needs a very thoughtful approach to address ethical considerations, worries, concerns and potential biases and misuse. The ongoing challenge lies in effectively using AI to complement and enhance human creativity, expertise and the learning experience without detracting from the educational objectives themselves.


Check out the Skills and Education Group events page which highlights topics such as AI.