Research seeks to empower students and teachers to thrive in an artificial intelligence world

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

A national report by University of Newcastle researchers has been released which contains a custom designed framework for future use of artificial intelligence in schools.

A national report, authored by researchers from the University of Newcastle, to guide Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Emerging Technologies in Schools was launched today. This research explores the current state of play and the future of AI and virtual and augmented reality for Australian school children and teachers. The report includes key terms, current use of AI and emerging technologies in schools, ethics, analysis of AI resources, and advice to teachers.

The research was commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Education, as part of their $1.5 million investment to commission the development of a range of curriculum resources to assist with the delivery of AI and emerging technologies content and the associated general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum.

The project, led by Associate Professor Erica Southgate with Dr Karen Blackmore and Dr Susan Grimes, comprised several components including reviews of the evidence on the technologies for teachers, an audit of high quality resources for learning about and with the technologies, and case studies of exemplary classroom practice.

Dr Karen Blackmore, an information technology expert, remarked, ‘People often think that AI is a robot. Of course some robots have AI but most do not. We are more likely to interact with and use AI in everyday applications we take for granted such as internet search engines or the virtual assistants in our phones. Both children and adults hold many misconceptions about AI, often thinking it is smarter than it actually is and even treating it as if it were alive. It’s important to clear up these misconceptions so that children can use AI to better their lives and teachers can harness its power for learning.’

Not only does the report provide a roadmap for the future use of this technology, it includes the first custom-designed framework for ethical use of the technology in schools. Associate Professor Erica Southgate, an education technology researcher, explained, ‘While we won’t see teachers being replaced by robots anytime soon, we will see AI being used as intelligent tutors that can identify when a student is struggling to understand a concept and offer them more extra resources or different activities to build their knowledge.

However, Associate Professor Southgate warns that the power of AI comes great ethical responsibility.

‘We are in a situation now where technology companies have ownership over algorithms and they are very reluctant share these for commercial reasons. In some types of AI deep machine learning, which is the way computing systems analyse information to make predictions and decisions, not even the engineers who developed the AI can explain why it came up with the results it did.’

Associate Professor Southgate says these type of ‘black box’ AI, where people cannot get access to or understand the algorithms which drive computer decisions is very problematic for schools.

‘It’s not good enough for a teacher to say to a student that they went down a particular pathway in an AI-driven learning product because the machine said so. This is why our report is so important. It educates on AI and it provides a detailed framework for teachers, students and their parents, to ask important questions about the use of the technology in schools.’

The report contains advice to teachers to help them tackle the fast-moving technology. Teachers should:

  • Start their lifelong learning AI journey now and refresh their professional development annually;
  • Engage in the ethics of AI so that their school community can make informed decisions;
  • Provide opportunities for students to learn with and about AI across curriculum learning areas and in the general capabilities area.

The report is available for free download at the Department of Education website which also has links to summaries of the report and infographics explaining AI to students.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.