Updated: May 14
As a school library specialist, I was thrilled to virtually attend the Cottesmore School AI Conference, where experts in the field of artificial intelligence came together to discuss the current state of education and the role of AI in shaping its future. The conference featured a number of amazing speakers talking about the need to support and teach students in a different way. The need to move away from exams and testing. The need to nurture the whole child, treating them as individuals and support and teach skills based learning. I can’t tell you how excited this made me. If you are a school librarian reading this it really is time to brush off your information literacy and inquiry skills as they are going to be needed very soon. Here are my brief highlights from the day.
Sir Anthony Seldon, Head of Epsom College:
Sir Anthony spoke passionately about the need to move on from teaching to the test and the ethos of "minimum disruption for maximum grades" mindset that currently dominates the education system. He pointed out that our current education system is built on a factory model that does not meet the needs of every student. Social mobility is declining, and one size does not fit all. The focus on cognitive intelligence in education means that we often neglect the needs of the whole child.
I was surprised to hear Sir Anthony say "our schools are brilliant for preparing our students for the 20th Century" but on reflection he is right and now is the time to embrace change and move forward. In the 21st century, we do need to adapt to the changing landscape and embrace new technologies like AI. He acknowledged the risks associated with AI but emphasised that we cannot shy away from its potential benefits.
Sir Anthony went on to say that "it is often work and struggle that makes us most human." As educators, we need to create an environment where students can develop resilience and learn to overcome challenges. AI can play a role in this by helping teachers personalise learning and providing students with more opportunities to learn at their own pace which the current system can't.
Sir Anthony concluded "The AI technologies could make life better, more interesting, safer and more rewarding than ever in human history. Or it could infantilise or kill off human beings. Everyone need to understand what is at stake and help ensure that the AI revolution is in the interest of the many, not the few."
Priya Lakhani, Founder and CEO at CENTURY Tech
Priya gave a fascinating talk about what it means to learn about AI and whether we are asking the right questions. She pointed out that many people are not even sure what AI actually is, let alone how it works, and stressed the importance of understanding these concepts in order to prepare for the future.
Priya, explained that there are two types of AI: narrow and general. Narrow AI is what we see in systems like chess-playing computers, chatbots on banking apps, and voice assistants like Alexa and Siri. These systems are built on a narrow learning tool and can only perform specific tasks for which they have been programmed. For example, a chess bot cannot tell you the weather because it has not been trained on that information.
On the other hand, general AI is designed to learn. This is what we see with advanced language models like ChatGPT and what researchers are working towards with artificial general intelligence (AGI). Priya also highlighted the importance of being aware of what is happening to our data and privacy as we continue to rely more heavily on AI. She emphasised the need to look at accountability and ethics going forward, especially as AI becomes more advanced and integrated into our daily lives.
As educators, it is important that we equip our students with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the evolving landscape of AI and make informed decisions about its use.
Stefan Bauschard, New York based author of Chat GPT - Navigating the impact of Generative AI on Educational Practice and Theory
Stefan Bauschard, delved deeper into the topic of narrow and generative AI echoing Priya's observations about the prevalence of narrow AI in our daily lives, citing examples such as search engines, spelling and grammar checkers, facial recognition, predictive text, and chatbots, whilst also highlighted the increasing presence of generative AI in our lives. These new AI's like ChatGPT can now generate entire paragraphs of text, help craft new sentences and engage in 'conversation'. He asked us to think about how we can support students in navigating this new landscape of AI and preparing them for the future.
Stefan suggested in line with some of Sir Anthony's thinking that education needs to shift towards inquiry-based learning that emphasised critical thinking and communication skills. Instead of simply memorising facts and figures, students need to be able to explain their understanding and articulate their thoughts effectively. He was the first of the speakers to bring up the need for AI literacy, which includes not only understanding how AI works but how to use it effectively and ethically. By fostering critical thinking, communication skills, and AI literacy, we can prepare the next generation for a world where AI is an integral part of our daily lives.
He highlighted these 4 arguments for consideration today:
We are at the beginning of radical technological change unlike any other previous change. This will have a transformative impact on society and schools. Gates (AI and Pre-AI World).
Academically, massively disruptive. What and how we need to learn is not known at this point.
Socially, role of schools a support structures will be reinforced and needed more than ever.
Action by All Educators is Critical. EdTech can provide 10-20% of what we need.
Here is a link to all Stefan's resources he used to create his presentation https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uN7D5tznG3yYKZ_7wY15cYKd8KiGsDUb0wFiuR4Q9lU/edit
Chris Goodall, Deputy Headteacher, Epsom and Ewell High School
Chris Goodall, continued the discussion about the changes needed in education to support students in the age of AI. Chris also emphasised the need to move away from a knowledge-based curriculum to one that is focused on skills. According to Chris, the skills that will be most valuable in the age of AI include communication, critical thinking, and real-world inquiry-based learning. Students need to be able to collaborate with others, articulate their ideas clearly, and think creatively in order to succeed in a world where AI is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Chris also emphasised the importance of literacy across the curriculum and the need to be able to develop descriptive prompts that encourage students to explain their thought processes and reasoning.
He gave a fabulous demonstration showing how teachers can save huge amounts of time by using AI to create resources, lesson plans, assessment tools and even write policies, highlighting that AI can have a very practical purpose too.
Dan Fitzpatrick, Founder, Third Box Ltd
Dan Fitzpatrick, provided a unique perspective on the role of humans in the age of AI. He talked about the Three Box Solution. Box 1 - keeps our current system going. Box 2 forget what made our current system successful in the past and "In box three we explore the future of the organisation, how it might be disrupted and how we meet these challenges. This is where we listen out for ‘weak signals’ of change that could be coming" he suggested that we have currently failed to dedicate any meaningful time to box three activities from an AI in education perspective but through conversations like the ones at this conference we were moving in the right direction.
Dan emphasised that while AI is advancing rapidly, it still needs humans to provide the input that enables it to function. He cited the example of chess, where even though computers can beat humans at the game, people still want to play because they enjoy the challenge and the social aspect of the game. Similarly, in education, Dan argued that there will always be a need for human input and interaction.
Finally, Dan also emphasised the importance dynamic assessments and AI literacy, echoing the sentiments of the previous speakers. He stressed that students need to understand not only how AI works but also how it is being used in the world around them, and how it is affecting their lives.
Sofia Fenichell, Founder and CEO Study Hall
Sofia Fenichell spoke about the importance of deep reading in the age of AI. She highlighted the need for students to engage in thoughtful, reflective reading that allows them to develop critical thinking skills and empathy.
Sofia announced the upcoming launch of Study Halls (available from 22/5/23), a resource designed to encourage and support reading across the curriculum. This resource will provide students with opportunities to engage in deep reading and explore a wide range of topics and perspectives utilising both generative AI and domain specific AI from end to end. The Deep Reader and the Assessment platform both leverage AI in an innovative way and I am looking forward to seeing how this works once it is launched.
She concluded her talk with an inspiring quote from Sir Anthony Seldon's book, The 4th Education Revolution, which highlighted the transformative potential of AI in education. According to Seldon, "libraries and exams/tests will be heavily transformed by AI. Libraries will become focal learning spaces in schools, but they will contain few physical books, while exams will be superseded by online, continuous assessment." I do like this quote but do feel that physical books will be around for a while yet.
Sofia's talk emphasised the importance of balancing the technological advancements of AI with the timeless skills of deep reading and critical thinking. By embracing the potential of AI while also valuing the importance of human skills and empathy, we can create an education system that prepares students for the challenges and opportunities of the future.
The Cottesmore School AI Conference re-enforced my understanding that the future of education is changing and that AI is going to play a big part in that transformation. The skills needed for this new era of education, including critical thinking, communication, and inquiry based learning, are skills that school librarians have been advocating and teaching for years. School librarian have the expertise to teach students how to navigate the world of AI demonstrating how to use it ethically and to enhance their learning experience. We have the knowledge to support teachers in implementing inquiry based learning and the skills needed across the curriculum. Let's embrace this new era of education and use our expertise to make a positive impact on the future of learning.
As a trainer and adviser for school libraries I offer a membership packages for school librarians, teachers and schools to help them engage across the curriculum. Check it out here or if you want to talk to me about how your school library is working across your curriculum, or about any of your schools specific needs please feel free to contact me directly.