Get AI savvy in school

School leaders, teachers and young people need to understand the opportunities, concerns and promises of artificial intelligence in the school sector. Sarah Horrocks (CLC director), Peter Lillington (CLC learning and teaching consultant) and researcher Katarina Sperling explain why

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already part of our lives through entertainment, shopping, searching and home devices and, in a recent survey by the World Bank and IPSOS, education came out as the area where people most expect AI to have an impact on their lives. 

Great claims are indeed being made for the power of AI in education. But do we really have any clear examples of success yet? We know that in China companies such as Squirrel AI are being used at scale but do we really know if AI can make a real difference in school level education? And why is it important to understand these developments? Despite the scarcity of thorough research in this area, AI products are already coming at schools thick and fast, and education leaders and teachers need to be able to distinguish between what’s hype and what’s useful.

A wild west

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to address some of the biggest challenges in education today, innovate teaching and learning practices, and ultimately accelerate the progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4. However, these rapid technological developments inevitably bring multiple risks and challenges, which have so far outpaced policy debates and regulatory frameworks.

As Stuart Russell, Professor of Computer Science and founder of the Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley, said in his recent BBC Reith lectures, there is a lack of regulation in the world of AI at large. 

"We are in the wild west and there isn’t a sheriff in sight"
Stuart Russell, BBC Reith Lectures, December 2021

There’s certainly a lack of regulation in the use of AI, machine learning and data collection in education. There’s also a time lag and lack of teeth. But governments and NGOs are trying to catch up with regulation and guidance. The information commissioner’s code for designing online services for children is a promising development, though not specifically targeted at AI in education, or machine learning. Even now, in 2022, the research community is signalling that an ethical framework and regulation for application of AI in education is still to be agreed and established.

The Institute for Ethical AI in Education reports are a good place to start when it comes to understanding the landscape. They aim for balance between the needs of schools, universities and edtech companies. Although the institute has finished its two and a half year duration, you can still access its final report. However, we believe that there needs to be more information for school leaders in particular.

Crucially, the viewpoint of the child has been missing. At the global level UNICEF has highlighted how children (to age 18) are often absent from the debate – how do younger children give informed consent about use of their intimate data?

And then there’s useful guidance, such as UNESCO’s (2021) AI and Education: guidance for policymakers report, which also serves to amplify the hype and expectations of what AI in education has to offer.

AI and personalised learning

Since 2019, we have been working on an Erasmus project, Empower2Learn, with partners from Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands. Covering a whole range of different aspects of differentiation and personalisation, the project has been all about empowering learners through personalised learning. There are many ways to do this and we have been able to draw on daily contact with teachers over the period of remote, hybrid and face to face learning over the last two years. 

This project has brought us into the area of AI because one of the features of AI in education that is often spoken about is the ability to personalise learning for an individual student. 

Of course, there are many ways to personalise learning and empower students through technology, including with a multitude of conventional apps and platforms. 

At the start of the project one of our framing references was the EU DigCompEdu – the Digital Competence Framework for educators – and it’s worth noting that the 2022 update of the main Digital Competence Framework for Citizens now includes ‘citizens interacting with AI systems’ - so we can probably expect Dig Comp Edu to reflect this in future

Examples of personalisation tools

So, what’s out there? Here are five tools that claim to empower learners and personalise learning along with some key points. We’re highlighting these tools not necessarily as recommendations but because, together, they provide a good overview of the range on offer.

Blutick – a platform for secondary maths

  • Expert maths teachers have been involved all along and feature in the videos that accompany the exercises
  • The website is up front about the tool with FAQs explaining what the role of the AI is and there’s an overarching positivity and encouragement for students at its basis
  • As a small example of personalisation, students are able to select which AI avatar they prefer to give the immediate feedback that they receive while undertaking tasks

Kaligo – an app for skills development

  • Kaligo is unusual in being focused not on content or techniques for solving mathematical problems, but on development of skills, with an audience of younger learners and their teachers in mind
  • In this specialist area it has taken note that children are taught handwriting to a number of different models or schemes
  • It can be used in the classroom or away from the classroom (as can many educational platforms and tools)
  • Students receive instant individual feedback, which allows them to self-correct on the fly as they do their handwriting, which is not possible in a conventional handwriting lesson

Lexplore and Legilexi –  software aiming to develop  students' reading  ability

  • Lexplore uses eye tracking and machine learning/AI to assess students. The test takes just two to five minutes per student. The student reads two short passages of text from a monitor with an eye tracking device attached, one out loud and one silently.  Each passage is then followed by some comprehension questions
  • LegiLexi is a Swedish  assessment and  instruction  program,  free  of  charge  for schools. Legilexi  has been  explicitly designed  together with researchers in  connection  with  the  mapping  of  student  abilities  to provide  teaching recommendations  on  the  basis  of  the  curriculum  goals  for  Grade  3 
  • Based on their results both tools provide learning analytics on an individual, group and school level and have intervention packages to address the difficulties detected among students. Municipalities or local authorities can get aggregated scores which can potentially inform CPD

Binogi – a multilingual teaching tool 

  • A Swedish research and innovation project developed with teachers and researchers, the tool emerged from a need to support teaching in classrooms with many newly arrived migrants and/or students that speak very little or no Swedish at all
  • The tool features a multitude of short, animated videos/lessons in 13 theoretical subjects: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, Swedish, social studies, history, geography, religion, English, technology, PE and domestic science 
  • Complicated key concepts and subject specific vocabulary are explained in playful and simplified ways. Audio as well as subtitles are available in seven languages; Swedish, Finnish, English, Arabic, Somali, Dari, Tigrini, with more languages are about to be introduced. Personalisation also happens through quizzes in different levels
  • Teachers have access to a learning analytics dashboard and can monitor their students as well as undertake formative assessment

Research into AI in education

Multifaceted AI technologies are already part of the daily lives of children. They grow up with AI systems that collect and measure data about their interactions when they watch film, play games, listen to music, exercise, socialise with friends, look up things on the internet or try to make a sense of ‘intelligent assistants’ like Siri. 

But these data capturing systems and interfaces, developed in different domains for mainly commercial purposes, are now entering classrooms through teaching aids, learning management systems and administrative software. 

How much do we know about them? 

One way to categorise AI tools in education is student faced, student supported, teacher faced, system faced AI applications. The technology behind these systems will vary but may include: 

  • Intelligent tutoring systems (IST)
  • Dialogue-based tutoring systems
  • Language learning application
  • Virtual tutors
  • Formative writing evaluation
  • AI learning companions
  • AI assessment
  • IST+ diagnostics
  • Test scoring
  • Diagnostic learning
  • Plagiarism detection
  • Learning analytics
  • Student attention 
  • Educational data mining
  • AI as learning research tool 
  • Synthetic teacher

A recent meta-study (2020) based on 400 research articles published between 2000-2019 indicates that the most recent trends in AI in education relate to the use of machine learning coupled with student profiling models and learning analytics (LA) that support personalised learning

Learning analytics is an increasingly important aspect of AI in education. Learning analytics focuses on a variety of issues from predicting student success, identifying students at risk of failing or dropping out, providing personalised and timely feedback to students. It is a more sophisticated  way of visualising and analysing data from student interaction on learning platforms or teaching aids. However, there is still little empirical evidence that LA improves teaching and learning.

Although AI research has been conducted for 40 years, there still seems to be a research gap around the practical implications of AI in education from the educational sciences. Most research so far has been conducted by cognitive and computer scientists and studies are mostly quantitative, looking at what works rather than how it works and what happens to teachers and students when these technologies are introduced in classrooms.

Getting AI savvy: what do you need to know?

Firstly, as a leader or teacher you can use these nine UNICEF points of guidance which draw on the UN Rights of the child as a touchstone for child-centred AI. Do your local solutions achieve the following (and how do you know?):

  • Support children’s development and wellbeing
  • Ensure inclusion of and for children
  • Prioritise fairness and non-discrimination for children
  • Protect children’s data and privacy
  • Ensure safety for children
  • Provide transparency, explainability, and accountability for children
  • Empower governments and businesses  [your community and institution] with knowledge of AI and children’s rights 
  • Prepare children for present and future developments in AI
  • Create an enabling environment

We also need to support children’s AI literacy – how it works, how it impacts society and how to use it ethically. The work of computer scientist, illustrator and educator Linda Liukas in her Hello Ruby series and YouTube channel is a great place to start with support for children and young people. (Read our interview and listen to our podcast with Linda!)

As with any introduction of new technology or services, the first step is to set a vision for what you want to achieve, based on a teaching and learning need, or admin, assessment or CPD requirement. Consider any barriers to implementation, and be vigilant to issues arising as you implement. 

You are an important part of shaping the technology and the regulations around its use so be sceptical and ask critical questions around ethical implication eg about how data is used/stored/visualised, how the algorithms work. Evaluate the research evidence which claims efficacy and outstanding result. Make sure it is independent.

Be clear about what things teachers can do that AI can’t do. As Rose Luckin says, educational practitioners will need teachers to develop even more critical reflection skills and metacognitive skills themselves in order to support their decision making and pedagogical innovation capabilities.

Book now

Summer primary school computing conference

- 15:30

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

Does your school need a sustained programme in the use of digital technology to underpin your whole school aims and plans?

Our support package covers the following:

Professional learning

Teacher professional development which puts digital at the heart of teaching and learning

Pupil workshops

Engaging, practical workshops for your class, in your school, at our Clapham centre online

Creative technology projects

Engaging, immersive educational experiences with corporate and cultural partners

Consultancy & advice

Get tailored support from our expert team of teachers and technologists

Technology loans

Kit for every classroom

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Upcoming CPD

Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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