Ask the Subject Experts new

We asked our Subject Experts the question. “How might AI have an impact on your subject? What can teachers/leaders do to embrace the opportunities and guard against potential problems?” Here is what they told us;

Sarah Vaughan – Primary Computing

Used correctly, there are many positives of using AI in primary computing and across the curriculum. It can support teachers with personalising learning for their students, lesson creation or building vocabulary lists to name just a few. Among the many benefits of AI, there needs to be careful consideration of the challenges and potential problems.  Staff need to be promoting digital literacy skills when working with their pupils to critically evaluate and navigate the AI driven content. Teachers also need to be mindful of the data they are sharing. Leaders will also need to make sure adequate training has been given to teachers to use the AI tools effectively.

Kirsty England – Secondary Music

AI has the potential to have a positive impact on secondary music education.

Content creation – If care is taken to create specific prompts, it could assist in helping teachers scope out new units of learning or resources, particularly at KS3 when there is often more freedom to offer learning materials that are unique to the learning context.

Interactive learning tools – AI-driven tolls could analyse student performances/practice sessions and give feedback on pitch, rhythm and technique. Yousician is an example of something that could be used on several devices in the classroom to provide feedback to students.

Music composition – Many AI tools now support composing. Composers/producers are now using these tools more frequently to create music.

Helen Snelson – Secondary History

The ways in which AI will shape our subject are many and most are, as yet, pretty much unknown, but here are just a few preliminary thoughts:

  1. Truth. History already has a big role to play in education to support young citizens to evaluate the validity of claims that are made. How we do this will need rethinking and renewed effort as AI becomes more prevalent. Historical truth is precious and I would encourage you to read this short introduction by Professor Terry Haydn to help you engage with it. The work of the Stanford Education Group about evaluating online information is also a useful place to go for support in thinking through what we need to do.
  2. Assessment. The rise of AI is likely to be a problem for assessment that is not done in controlled conditions. Yet, the 100% end of course unseen exam system does not enable all students to show what they can truly do. As we start to think about what the next generation of public examinations may look like, I suggest that we could explore the idea of an oral element for history. Oral assessment is a part of the public exams in history in many other European countries. We could explore what they do and what may work in our context.
  3. Workload. I am pessimistic at the moment that AI will reduce history teacher workload. From planning to marking, these time consuming activities are very important for effective classroom history teaching. And to be effective they have to be really well thought about and engaged with by the individual doing the teaching. I remain unconvinced that there are many shortcuts to this process. I also know of too many other great new things that were going to save time, and did the opposite. But maybe I am being an old Luddite here!

Catherine Bickersteth – Primary History

AI has the potential to enhance history teaching by personalising learning, providing access to resources and automating certain tasks. However, teachers need to be mindful of potential historical inaccuracies, biases and privacy concerns. There is a need for ongoing training to use AI effectively whilst not losing the essential teacher-student interaction in history education.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can aid pupils in accessing a vast amount of historical information from diverse types of sources which can make history more engaging and informative. AI can generate interactive content, such as virtual tours of historical sites, simulations of historical events or AI-driven historical characters that can answer student questions. AI and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies are being integrated into history education so that pupils can virtually explore historical sites, participate in simulations of historical events and interact with AI-powered historical figures, enhancing their understanding of the past in innovative ways. At its best, this has a powerful impact on learning experiences. An example of this is The Forever Project which has been developed to provide an interactive experience that uses testimony from Holocaust survivors. This project is now developing new VR versions.

Features such as Chatbots powered by AI, can help engage pupils and aid independent learning, for example by answering historical questions and engaging in conversations about historical events, figures, and concepts. AI can help students analyse historical data by converting complex historical data into easily understandable visualisations. This can aid in understanding historical concepts such as cause and consequence, making links across different periods and regions and be a tool in creating effective adaptive teaching strategies. AI, which can create visual and text content, could be a tool that teachers use to create tailored lesson resources. This could facilitate rapid access to the huge range of historical sources which exist, therefore helping with teacher workload. When researching potential uses of AI in history teaching, I experimented with using a current AI platform to create lesson resources based around the Bristol Bus Boycott. The problem was that the AI platform clearly lacked sufficient intelligence about this event, to generate appropriate resources analysing and assessing the causes and impact of this event. AI is only as good as the subject knowledge data to which it has access. Techniques will need to be developed to make certain that teachers are able to refine these tools to create high quality teaching resources. Initial teacher education will need to have elements built into the ITE curriculum regarding subject knowledge development, which include opportunities to evaluate the usefulness of AI generated teaching materials, how to apply adaptive teaching to these resources and an ongoing review of AI provision. With any fast-moving technological revolution which also impacts on education, everyone needs to be wary of accepting the first commercial enterprise that claims to have the answer to all your needs. Let us hope that subject expertise will be looked to in developing resources for use in schools.

AI presents challenges for history teaching, relating to accuracy and bias. AI systems can sometimes perpetuate historical inaccuracies or biases present in the data they are trained on. This is where teacher subject knowledge needs to be relied upon. This highlights the need for robust subject knowledge development in ITE.

An over-reliance on AI in history teaching could potentially reduce the interaction between teachers and pupils, or impact negatively on oracy in the classroom. In order to avoid this  happening, leaders need to plan CPD that specifically demonstrates ways of adapting teaching which may use AI, but not to the detriment of real time teacher to pupil  interactions, nor peer to peer interactions, and opportunities for oracy as part of the learning experience.

AI can help streamline teacher workload by automating the grading of quizzes and tests and enable more rapid feedback to pupils. AI can help educators to complete data analysis to identify areas where pupils may need adaptive teaching and can provide insights into teaching methods that are most effective. However, using AI to collect and analyse pupil data raises concerns about privacy. Leaders need to ensure that robust GDPR systems and staff training are in place so that any data collected is handled responsibly.

One concern that arises as technology advances rapidly is that educational inequalities can increase due to uneven resourcing of different educational organisations. Individual pupils may not have access to the equipment and tools needed to access the full potential of AI driven educational resources.

AI is part of our ongoing technological, Internet based revolution. As educators, this has great potential, but needs to be carefully handled

Kit Rackley – Secondary Geography

AI offers exciting opportunities and challenges for Geography education in UK high schools. On one hand, AI-powered mapping software enables interactive virtual field trips to incredible places like the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, fostering deeper understanding of environmental issues through climate data analysis. Personalized AI platforms tailor lessons to individual interests, showcasing AI’s role in sustainable urban planning and disaster monitoring. However, educators must strike a balance, maintaining human interaction while integrating AI, addressing privacy and data ethics concerns, and ensuring adequate training and support. Regular assessment is crucial to optimize AI’s impact on students’ learning experiences.*

*This was actually written by ChatGPT! I asked it to summarise into a paragraph. Could you tell? What do you think?

Lynn Welsh – Secondary Art and Design

On a recent visit to MOMA, I was struck by how the Art world is changing. The works that stayed with me, that excited, confounded and amazed me, that made my heart sing were both generated by AI. In the foyer a huge piece ‘Unsupervised’  by artist Refik Anadol uses AI to interpret and transform more than 200 years of art at MoMA, it reimagines the history of modern art and dreams about what might have been—and what might be to come. The piece is huge, mesmerising and haunting, it sucks you in and takes you to a new world. Viewers stopped in their tracks and were utterly transfixed by the ever changing work.

The second piece, ‘Double quadruple etcetera etcetera’ by Sondra Perry is a silent digital animation of dancers where parts of the body are covered using the content aware function in photoshop. The piece is beautiful, it’s about all and nothing, of turmoil and joy and, after seeing these two works – I was totally sold on the worth of AI in our subject.

There is no denying that AI is and will be part of the future of Art and we should embrace the opportunities it affords us. Of course, for dinosaurs like me – it’s scary, I don’t understand it, I don’t really know what it can do, I have no idea where to start or how to learn but what I do know is, that as an educator I need to be open to it’s positive applications, encourage it’s use and it’s development in the subject and make an effort to expand my knowledge alongside the trainees and the pupils.

Dr Linda Whitworth – Primary Religious Education

There are particular opportunities for AI in RE, because there are increasing possibilities to introduce more diversity and more nuance in the material studied. An example of this could be teaching about Christians and having examples of individuals and groups from different denominations in different parts of the world, which are easily accessed and can be used to promote investigative learning and discussion. This would enable pupils to see lived religion on a global scale and realise that it has significance in different ways in different places. This approach is already being encouraged by the emphasis on worldviews in RE. The same approach to diversity can be used across all religions and non-religious worldviews and this would enable pupils to see how beliefs can influence people in many ways in their everyday lives. It also has great potential if learning is being extended beyond the classroom through real or virtual visits to places of worship or reflection. Conversations can be held in real time or by pre-recording so that pupils interact with people from other cultures and beliefs. This could develop a much greater understanding of both human similarities and differences and lead pupils towards respecting the rights of others to practise their beliefs, as well as encourage them to express their own views.

One of the key opportunities for AI is in the area of adaptive learning for individual pupils. As Religion and Worldviews becomes increasingly understood as a new paradigm for teaching RE, the individual needs and worldviews of pupils can be identified and worked with. Assistive technology means, for example, that materials can be converted to spoken access rather than reading if this is a barrier. Instructions and answers can be given in diverse ways to assist assessment. Religious terms, which often have deep meanings in the language of a culture or religion, can be explored in multiple ways. This could also lead to pupils being able to enquire more about aspects of learning about religions and worldviews which interest them, enabling them to have choice in the depth and range they are working at. These are all opportunities which teachers should explore but which should not replace their role in conveying meaning and encouraging engagement.

Using more AI in the classroom would however require teachers to be both aware of what material is available and have time as well as knowledge to tailor the materials to the curriculum and the needs of their classes. There can be a risk of stereotyping religions and worldviews in order that children can grasp material in the time available. This is a risk which exists already and AI could increase it because of the volume of teaching material made available. Teachers will have to act as gatekeepers to ensure the focus is clearly on the learning and that the websites etc. used are safe, appropriate and technologically accessible and educational for pupils.

Above all, RE like all humanities subjects, needs to have opportunities to have human-led discussions and to work collaboratively with others. AI should not impinge on or replace this. There is so much more than factual learning taking place when pupils work together or reflect on their own understandings. Using AI should not allow RE to become reduced to that which is testable, visual or an over-simplification of ideas which remove the opportunities to consider and debate the deeper questions which lie are the heart of the subject. Instead it should open up and enhance understandings and encourage pupils to make connections in their RE learning in diverse and exciting ways.

Kate Percival – Primary Languages

When I first heard about the concept of AI in language learning, I must admit I had my reservations. The idea of the teacher in the classroom being replaced and AI producing less than accurate translations sounded worrying. However, as we learn more about the technology of AI, the potential it has to enhance language learning becomes more attractive. Firstly, chatbots can provide the opportunity for students to self-study, AI systems offering feedback and help with pronunciation. Secondly, teachers can make use of AI powered tools to help alleviate some of their workload by generating grammar and vocabulary activities, provide translations and helping with assessment. It may be that AI supports the more advanced language learner rather than the beginner and I think teachers do need to receive training and professional development to understand how to effectively blend AI with traditional teaching methods. Ultimately, AI should not and will not ever replace human relationships as language learning is all about becoming effective communicators with all its errors and successes, and the development of socio-cultural skills.

Sara Davidson – Secondary Languages

In the secondary languages teaching world we have been grappling with Google Translate and other translating programmes for many years. The developments in AI and access to ChatGPT just compound this further, but we have been learning to deal with these for some time. As we are a skill-based subject it is easy to spot when work is not a pupil’s own. The main threat will be to pupils’ written work, so we may no longer be able to confidently set written work for homework, but rather do this in class instead. There are many creative tasks that AI could be used for in class (especially if pupils have devices), involving creating dialogues with a chatbot in the language they are studying. This can be motivational as because they can interact with learners in their target language instantly and realistically. Given the ‘paucity of exposure to the language’ (Macaro, 2014:118) in many UK modern languages classrooms, this is surely an advantage.

ChatGPT is also brilliant for supporting teachers’ lesson planning by creating bespoke texts and gap-fills or multiple-choice exercises on a particular topic, containing specific vocabulary or grammatical constructions. It is a great tool for revision: A-level pupils can ask it to summarise, make vocabulary lists or make notes in the language on films, books and topics they are studying or can ask it to come up with essay titles or translation texts they can practise, for example. We will need to teach our pupils to use it wisely, but I believe that as we learn more about its capabilities and if we approach it with a positive and creative mindset, the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages.

If you have any questions you would like to ask our experts, then please contact us.

First published December 2023

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