Jisc’s new national centre to ‘unleash the power of AI’ in education

Alongside the Centre, the edtech non-profit has published a report outlining its plan to embed immersive technologies in post-16 education

Edtech non-profit Jisc has another exciting venture launching today (27 April): a new national centre which aims to “unleash the power of AI” in post-16 education.

The National Centre for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Tertiary Education has been well-received by industry giants such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google and Microsoft, and has also been supported by innovation-focused colleges and universities across the UK. Then Centre will initially be staffed by a team of seven AI experts, along with consultants and partners from both industry and education.

The launch of the dedicated AI facility follows digital secretary Oliver Dowden’s announcement of the government’s AI strategy in March. “Unleashing the power of AI is a top priority,” said Dowden.

“Unleashing the power of AI is a top priority” – Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport

The strategy forms part of the government’s plan to boost the nation’s global competitiveness in AI, since, as a nation, the UK is still “yet to meaningfully embed technology within higher and further education”, according to Jisc. The lack of AI investment is surprising since the field is expected to increase national GDP by 10.3% by 2030, estimates PwC; while the Office for Artificial Intelligence predicts that AI could boost productivity in some industries by 30%.

The aim of Jisc’s new centre is to help bridge this gap. Informed by the organisation’s AI in tertiary education report, which explored the uses and impact of such technologies, the Centre has pledged to deliver AI solutions to 60 colleges and 30 universities within the next five years.

“AI offers the chance to help every student reach their highest potential by offering highly personalised education” – Andy McGregor, Jisc

“Universities and colleges are at a critical juncture,” said Andy McGregor, director of edtech at Jisc. “COVID showed the possibilities technology offers in delivering courses remotely. AI offers the chance to help every student reach their highest potential by offering highly personalised education. However, this will only work if AI is used to augment the important role teachers play in education, and if ethics are at the forefront of implementing AI tools.”

Among other things, the Centre will identify effective AI solutions for education settings, measuring them against its ethical framework and testing how they improve learner experiences. It will also develop new AI solutions, on top of constructing systems to both support teachers and minimise admin tasks.

Fundamental to the Centre’s goal is ensuring that AI is employed in such a way that augments teachers’ skills and empowers human-led instruction, developing staff skills and confidence in using AI in the classroom. To support this, Jisc’s consultants will work with colleges and universities across the UK to help install AI solutions, as well as train their staff in maximising these technologies.

Rose Luckin, professor of learner-centred design at University College London (UCL), commented on the launch: “AI is full of promise, but that promise will not be realised unless government, educators, experts and businesses work collaboratively to harness its potential. Now is the moment to accelerate AI adoption in tertiary education, and I’m very excited by the prospect of a National Centre in this field.”

In other news: COVID-19 closures drove multi-generational digital upskilling in schools


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