What does it mean to live in a world with AI?

This is the third in our series of expert interviews about AI and education.

Linda Castaneda is Associate Professor Educational Technology at the Universidad de Murcia in Spain where she teaches preservice teachers and other professionals related to learning and undertakes continuing professional development activities for teachers and university professors.

She has recently led a research project for the European Joint Research Centre around the European Frameworks and tools for technology for teachers and trainers:

  • DigCompOrg) - supporting the development of digital capacities within educational organisations;
  • DigCompEdu – the European framework for supporting teachers and trainers in the use of technology for teaching and learning;
  • SELFIE and SELFIE Work Based Learning tools for the self-assessment of readiness of both organisation and individuals for using technology for teaching and learning. m

The study involved the analysis of the use of the Frameworks in Spain to support educational digital transformation, seen as one of the European Member States with a deeper and more extensive use of the frameworks and tools, to learn from its practical experience. The aim was to extract lessons on how to adapt, apply and use the frameworks and tools to digitally transform the Spanish educational systems and to increase the educators´ digital competences together with its educational organisations´ digital capacities.

This report highlights the importance of DigCompEdu as a framework that goes beyond the instrumental view of the digital transformation of education, helping institutions to anticipate, design and structure it. SELFIE is seen as a fundamental tool for school awareness and digital planning. Furthermore, the results consolidate the evidence of diverse approaches to digital transformation, especially considering the context of Spain, where the competence of education is at the regional level.

Linda is also involved in two projects devoted to Foster DIGCOMPEDU in University Teachers, nationally and internationally.

Graham Attwell interviewed Linda Castaneda in September 2003.

Competence Frameworks

“The major problem is how to engage participants in the process of educational digital transformation. Teachers' Training is not meaningful. Students are not motivated. Teachers and trainers complain about how useful the programme is. A reason may be that the Framework of Competences – DigCompEdu is being taken as a curriculum. But before it is useful and can be applied, its contents must be localized, the jargon needs to be translated into something close to the day-to-day experience of teachers – it needs to be based on their practice and to be important for them. At the moment many teachers are not appreciating how useful the Framework could for their area of education.

We need to translate the global framework into something which they can take ownership of. We must realise that different territories, as well as different areas of knowledge – e.g.Engineers and lawyers– have little in common. Translation is needed to make it meaningful with them.

Institutions and governments are backing the use of the Frameworks because they consider a way to be connected with a global –European– vision about the future of education, and also because they are supported by European Union money. It is all about politics and impact.

Even though frameworks are a clear approach on what to do and the perspective where to go, they come from the Anglo Saxon epistemic tradition about learning and education, which focuses on course and time-based learning. Education –with a wider approach– should include informal learning from outside the institution.

Additionally, DigCompEdu is mainly based on Blooms taxonomy, but it largely ignores the issue of metacognition and agency – the power to enact self-directed learning. It is not in the framework but is in discussion of the framework.

Digital transitions

Digital transition in education is too often focused thinking on budgets and governance, not on approaches to teaching and learning. We try to implement as many devices as possible but without challenging poor pedagogical approaches. We saw the problems in that approach in the Covid emergency. Everything about digital transformation is about teaching using a digital device or online. The most advanced technology most teachers –specially at the university– know is Turnitin. This needs a professional approach, teachers are professionals of education.

The Challenge of AI in education

The challenge of AI is what it means to day-to-day work, to the human everyday life. What does it mean to live in a world with AI.

Now we have a very restrictive curriculum. There is a growing debate over how to reshape courses. We need to rethink the purpose of education for each case, and the role of teachers in that new definition of education– e.g. what is the point of teachers especially in technical education –, it is crucial redefine human roles. We need to reconfigure the role of people and think in broader terms. For instance, why do we have a shortage of teachers, can we really replace them with AI?.

This, as everything regarding transformation of education and learning, requires a strategic approach. It is not the responsibility of some, but a systemic issue that ask everyone to have a critical perspective and to redefine the elements of the institutional structures.

UNESCO AI Competency Framework for Teachers

Last weeks UNESCO Digital Learning conference attracted attendees from over the world and significant press and social media interest. Much of the focus was on AI and education, especially around the UNESCO publication of what they say is the first-ever global Guidance on Generative AI in Education and Research, designed to address the disruptions caused by Generative AI technologies. A recent UNESCO global survey of over 450 schools and universities showed that less than 10% of them had institutional policies and/or formal guidance concerning the use of generative AI applications, largely due to the absence of national regulations. The UNESCO Guidance sets out "seven key steps for governments should take to regulate Generative AI and establish policy frameworks for its ethical use in education and research, including through the adoption of global, regional or national data protection and privacy standards. It also sets an age limit of 13 for the use of AI tools in the classroom and calls for teacher training on this subject." Perhaps more significant for those of us working on competences for teachers and trainers in using AI for teaching and learning (as in the AI pioneers European project) was the publication of the UNESCO AI Competency Frameworks for Teachers and School Students. In a draft discussion document they say the "AI CFT responds to the stated gap in knowledge and experience globally and offers initial guidance on how teachers can be prepared for a growing AI-powered education system." They go on to explain:
The AI CFT is targeted at a wide-ranging teacher community, including pre-service and in-service teachers, teacher educators and trainers in formal, non-formal education institutions, policymakers, officials and staff involved in teacher professional learning ecosystems from early childhood development, basic education, to higher and tertiary education.... The purpose of the AI CFT is to provide an inclusive framework that can guide teachers, teaching communities and the teacher education systems worldwide to leverage the educational affordances of AI, and develop the critical agency, knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to manage the risks and threats associated with AI. It promotes the responsible, ethical, equitable and inclusive design and use of AI in education.
The draft discussion document provides a diagram of a High-level Structure of the proposed AI Competency Framework for Teachers.
Further diagrams provide progression routes and more detailed contents for the Framework. The main criticism in social media was not so much the content of the Framework, but that the Framework is based on Blooms taxonomy, with some asserting that the taxonomy is outdated and doubts being raised as to whether teachers would be able to follow an orderly progression route around AI. UNESCO Have asked for feedback on both the Framwork for Teachers and the Framework for students on an online form.

AI skills and competences for teachers

Photo by 杰 肖 on Unsplash

UNESCO have long been active in AI in education, seeing it as a critical support for the United Nations Sustainability Goal SDG 4 for which they are the lead agent: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. There are three main strands to their work:

  • AI and the Future of Learning
  • Guidance for Generative AI in education and research
  • AI Competency Frameworks for Students and Teachers 

In a flurry of announcements and posts on LinkedIn over the summer, Fengchun Miao, Chief of the Unit for Technology and AI in Education at UNESCO, has released details of forthcoming initiatives in this field.

In 2022 UNESCO published theK-12 AI Curricula: A mapping of government-endorsed AI curricula”, the first report on the global status of K-12 AI curricula. “All citizens need to be equipped with some level of competency with regard to AI. This includes the knowledge, understanding, skills and values to be ‘AI literate’ - this has become a basic grammar of our century,” said Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education of UNESCO.

Building on this work, UNESCO have released two draft Competencey Frameworks, one on AI for students and the other AI for teachers. According to Fenchung Miao "The AI competency framework for teachers will define the knowledge, skills and attitudes that teachers should possess to understand the roles of AI in education and utilize AI in their teaching practices in an ethical and effective manner."

The drafts of the two AI competency frameworks will be presented and further refined during UNESCO's Digital Learning Week which takes place in Paris from 4-7 September 2023.

The EU funded AI pioneers project is also committed to identifying AI competences for teachers and trainers in Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education based on the EU DigCompEdu Framework, At first site, although there may be some differences in how the Frameworks are presented there appears to be no barriers to incorporation of the UNESCO Framework within DigCompEdu.

What will happen to jobs with the rise and rise of Generative AI

Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash

OK where to start? First what is Generative AI? It is the posh term for things like ChatGPT from OpenAI or Bard from Google. And these Generative AIs based on Large Language Models are fast being integrated into all kinds of applications starting out with the chatbot integrated into Microsoft Bing browser and Dalll-E just one of applications generating images from text or chat descriptions.

Predicting what will happen with jobs is a tricky business. Jobs have been threatened by successive waves of technology. In general the overall effect on employment appears to have been less than was predicted. Of course there was a vast shift in employment with the advent of mechanization in agriculture but that took place around the end of the 19th century at least in some countries. And its pretty easy to find jobs that have disappeared in recent times - for instance employment in video shops. But in general it appears that disruption has been less than predicted in various surveys and reports. Technology has been used to increase productivity - for example in shops using self checkouts and automated stock management - or has been used to complement working processes and tasks rather than substitute for workers and the generation of new jobs to work with the technology

But what is going to happen this time round with all sorts of predictions and speculation - not helped by no-one quite knowing what Generative AI is capable of and even harder what it will be able to do in the very near future. Bill Gates (the founder of Microsoft) has said the development of AI is as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone. There is too much press and media speculation to even sum up the general reaction to the release of these new AI models and applications although Stephen Downes is making a valiant attempt in his OLDaily newsletter. Personally I enjoyed UK restaurant critic, Jay Raynor's account in the Guardian newspaper of when he asked ChatGPT to write a restaurant review in his own inimitable style. Of course, along with concerns over the impact on employment and jobs, there is much concern over the ethical implications of the new AI models although it is worth noting Ilkka Tuomi writing on LinkedIn (his posts are well worth following) has noted that the EU has been an early mover in policy and regulation. Ilkka also, while noting that education (and teaching) is more than just knowledge transformation, says "dialogue and learning by teaching are very powerful pedagogical approaches and generative AI can be used in many different ways in learning and education:. He concludes by saying: "This really could have a transformative impact."

Anyway back to the more general impact on jobs which is an issue for the new EU AI Pioneers project which focuses on the impact on Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education. Last weekend saw the release of a report by Goldman Sachs predicating that as many as 300 million jobs could be affected by generative AI and the labor market could face significant disruption. However they suggest that :most jobs and industries are only partially exposed to automation and are thus more likely to be complemented rather than substituted by AI". In the US they estimate 7% of jobs could be replaced by AI, with 63% being complemented by AI and 30% being unaffected by it. Perhaps one of the reasons for so much concern is that this wave of automation seems to be most likely to impact on skilled work with, say Goldman Sachs, office and administrative support positions at the greatest risk of task replacement (46%(, followed by legal positions (44%) and architecture and engineering jobs (37%).

What I found most interesting from the full report (rather than the press summaries) is the methodology. The report includes a quite detailed description. It says:

Generative AI’s ability to 1) generate new content that is indistinguishable from human-created output and 2) break down communication barriers between humans and machines reflects a major advancement with potentially large macroeconomic effects.

The report is based on "data from the O*NET database on the task content of over 900 occupations in the US (and later extend to over 2000 occupations in the European ESCO database) to estimate the
share of total work exposed to labor-saving automation by AI by occupation and industry." They assume that AI is capable of completing tasks up to a difficulty of 4 on the 7-point O*NET “level” scale and
"then take an importance- and complexity-weighted average of essential work tasks for each occupation and estimate the share of each occupation’s total workload that AI has the potential to replace." They "further assume that occupations for which a significant share of workers’ time is spent outdoors or performing physical labor cannot be automated by AI."

What are the implications for Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education? It seems clear that very significant number of workers are going to need some form of training or Professional Development - at a general level for working with AI and at a more specific level for undertaking new work tasks with AI. There is little to suggest present education and training systems in Europe can meet these needs, even if we expect a ramping up of online provision. The EU's position seems to be to push the development of Microcredentials which according the the EU Cedefop agency "are seen to be fit for purposes such as addressing the needs of the labour market, lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling, recognising prior learning, and widening access to a greater variety of learners. Yet in their recent report, they say that

"Microcredentials tend to be a flexible, demand-driven response to the need for skills in the labour market, but they can lack the same trust and recognition enjoyed by full qualifications. In terms of whether and how they might be accommodated within qualification systems, they can pose important questions about how to guarantee their value and currency without undermining both their own flexibility and the stability and dependability of established qualifications."

The need for new skills for AI pose a question for how curricula can be adapted and updated faster than has been done traditionally. And they pose major questions for institutions to adapting course provsion to to new skill needs at a local and regional level as well as national. Of course there are major challenges for the skills and competences of teachers and trainers, who, the AI and VET project found, were generally receptive to embracing AI for teaching and learning as well as new curricula content, but felt the need for more support and professional training to update their own skills and knowledge (and this was before the launch of Generative AI models.

All in all, there is a lot to think about here.