Senior Head's Blog: Under the Influence of Artificial Intelligence

Technology continues to play an increasing part in all of our lives, and we are all increasingly under the influence of Artificial Intelligence in our everyday lives.  Just look at the adverts that appear on your phone or computer, after you have made an online purchase, or look at what appears on your tiktok feed, or your netflix 'recommended' and you will recognise that artificial intelligence is making decisions for you about what you might like.  In some areas, the AI is superficially hidden, and we have to think before we know that it is in action, but in others it is much clearer.

In education, for some time, there have been online tools to help with our learning.  I remember when Wikipedia was dismissed as an unreliable source.  Now it is a hugely helpful resource for most areas, and while there are occasional instances of pages being changed, generally it is now seen as a valid source for information.  Google translate has been the bane of language departments, but it has so far lacked the nuance of translation, and so is relatively easy to see in action, and to use it effectively, you have to be prepared to check your work carefully, meaning that it can be a helpful learning tool.  

Currently, you may well have seen ChatGPT in the news. This is an AI driven Chatbot that can provide highly convincing text answers to questions that you feed into it.  It has got schools and universities thinking about what this means for essay writing and coursework right now, and as with most new developments, there is a level of concern about it.  Does this spell the end for coursework, the death of the thesis, and a return to traditional examinations at all levels?  There is certainly a risk that this can be used negatively and passing off someone else's (or something else's) work as your own does not demonstrate learning, and is likely to be found out.  Following the initial success of ChatGPT, there are many people around the world trying to come up with software that will identify those who are using it purely to find a shortcut for a high pressure deadline.

However, if you follow the online discussions about this, you will also see that people are using this to save themselves time, including in the teaching profession.  Some are talking about generating lesson plans through ChatGPT, and while they still need to be personalised and adapted, some of the time consumed by the more mundane tasks can be significantly reduced, which in turn enables lessons to be more directed to individual needs, marking to be more focused, or even just to create a better work/life balance.  The same will be true in many professions.  For the students, using ChatGPT would be no more problematic than using Google Translate, but depending on it would mean that they could not get credit for their work.  It is important that everything that is presented as your own work is your own work, and all students have to commit to academic honesty in producing coursework or internal assessments, so the same rules will apply, whether something is copied from a book, or created by an AI programme.

What is clear is that Artificial Intelligence is here to stay, and its influence on all of our lives will only get greater in the coming years.  If you are interested in Artificial Intelligence, I can highly recommend any of Professor Toby Walsh (OF)'s books as well as our recent FelsTED Talks podcast.

Many thanks for reading this article, which was produced without the help of any artificial intelligence.

Chris Townsend
Head, Felsted School