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The PIE’s AI workshop encourages delegates to reconsider new technology usage

As the international education industry looks to adopting new technology such as artificial intelligence to streamline its services and provide better products for students, deciphering when and where to utilise AI, virtual reality and alternate reality effectively and responsibly is one of the key challenges facing the sector.

AIThe PIE's AI event was held at London's Guildhall last week. Photo: Roger Harris

Educators are realising that they need to get on board with technologies such as AI

It was also a key theme at The PIE’s first AI workshop, which was held ahead of the PIEoneer Awards at London’s Guildhall on September 19, during which attendees were challenged to reconsider how they looked at using new technology.

“We’ve had this traditional way of doing things… but now we need to look at how we change”

“Institutions in general think of education in a very linear way. But the world is moving towards more workforce-driven education,” Ashish Fernando, head of Product at iSchoolConnect, told The PIE News.

“The number one reason for students to join any institution is to get into the workforce. And we need to use all these technologies that we’re talking about – artificial intelligence, VR, AR – to train students for the workforce.

“We’ve had this traditional way of doing things for the last two or three decades. But now we need to look at how we change to meet the needs of the workforce, to meet the employer’s needs and help our students.”

New technology has the potential to take away “drudge work” from teachers, aiding in classroom management – including virtual classrooms – and assessment while collecting data that will allow for better evaluation of students’ strengths and weaknesses.

But the use of AI extends beyond the classroom.

The mass collection of data can be used to provide better advisory and assistance services for students, such as how technology was used by NYU to track international students returning from abroad at risk of being stopped at the border due to US visa restrictions.

AI is also being adopted quickly in China for services related to education, as Billy Xu of BestieU explained in his talk.

“International education is a fast-growing industry in China, and the AI technology and innovation will benefit local international schools,” he later told The PIE.

“But the huge demand for overseas university application services and bespoke tutorials from the students and parents are still heavily reliant on a labour model, which would take quite a while to change.”

Today’s students demand faster services and turnarounds which are only possible through technology. This has led to the automation of greater and greater amounts of services, from chatbots to consultancy.

But properly implementing data and AI use in a way that is transparent and protective of students’ rights can at times be difficult waters to navigate, as has been seen with scandals involving tech giants like Facebook.

“When we talk about an emerging technology… it’s easy to get distracted by how shiny and new it seems and overlook the fact that it ultimately is about people and data. It’s about who has access to your data and what they’re doing with it,” Martin Hamilton, a futurist at Jisc, told The PIE.

“It’s easy to get distracted by how shiny and new it seems”

“We recently worked with the Data Analytics All-Party Parliamentary Group’s enquiry into data ethics, and one idea that came out of this was a ‘food labelling’ type approach, which would clearly set out how products and services make use of personal data,” he explained.

“Of course, this is only useful if organisations are processing data responsibly – food labels aren’t an excuse to offer unsafe products – and if individuals have meaningful choices about what services they use.

“The APPG also felt it was very important that people should be able to have a plain English explanation of how a decision was arrived at by an AI, for example, if a student’s assignment was judged to be plagiarised or sourced from an essay mill,” he continued.

“We’re also starting to see AI used to help detect use of essay mills, in addition to supporting personalised adaptive learning,so we could see some interesting, but possibly risky conflicts, as we embrace Education 4.0 if we are not careful.

These issues are particularly relevant to online delivery of international education, Hamilton suggested.

“Banks talk about “knowing your customer” but in an increasingly online international education market it’s just as important to know your student – and the truth is that you really can’t rely on AI for that.”

It was also noted that service providers need to be aware of the capabilities of students, some of whom may live in areas without high bandwidth or be using an inexpensive laptop or mobile.

“Educators are realising that they need to get on board with technologies such as AI to avoid drastically falling behind,” speaker Mike Henniger VP of marketing at the Centre for Entertainment Arts said.

“We have taken a wait and see approach but the student has an expectation that technology will be available to them all the way from the recruitment process through to content delivery.”

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