Exclusive: School's GPT opens new possibilities for teaching and learning

Exclusive: School

In November 2023, while the world was still coming to terms with the mind-bending abilities of GPT-4, OpenAI dropped another bombshell, announcing that users could now train their very own GPTs with their own data.

This was big news for anyone who with even elementary knowledge on how Large Language Models (LLM) like GPT-4 worked because it now meant that they could tailor this powerful and versatile AI to their own needs. In this way, this ‘digital assistant’ now had a brain of the user’s own making.

Wary of its potential for misuse, many schools began blocking the use of Generative AI from their classrooms, but Lindisfarne Anglican Grammar School in NSW was one of the few to embrace this technology, seeing a big opportunity to make life easier for its 200 staff.

‘AI can do more than we would have ever imagined’

Kane Bradford, Head of Professional Practice, Innovation and Partnerships and the lead for AI-related initiatives at Lindisfarne, said teachers returned from the Christmas break in January 2023 to news about game-changing developments in AI's capability and accessibility.

“Some 15 months later, the growth has been profound; we are no longer just talking about LLMs that can write an essay for you – AI can do more than we would have ever imagined,” Bradford told The Educator.

“The impact on schools has been unprecedented, prompting institutions including Lindisfarne to rethink how technology is integrated into the classroom.”

Indeed, the school’s proactive approach to tech integration has garnered significant recognition, most recently seen with the school winning 'Best Use of Technology' at the 2023 Australian Education Awards.

“This accolade reflects our consistent efforts to stay ahead of the curve. In addition, we've been listed among the most Innovative Schools by The Educator Magazine for three consecutive years, a testament to our dedication to pioneering new educational strategies,” Bradford said.

“Our approach to AI is rooted in enhancing the learning experience. We see generative AI as a tool that can transform education, enabling personalised learning and creating more interactive classroom environments.”

Understanding potential benefits and risks

To ensure ethical and safe use around AI, the school established comprehensive policies to guide the integration of AI into teaching and learning and emphasise safety and the importance of teaching students to critically assess AI-generated content.

“The policy includes comprehensive guidance for educators and students, ensuring everyone understands the potential benefits and risks associated with AI tools,” Bradford said.

“By focusing on ethical considerations and promoting responsible practices, we aim to create a learning environment where AI serves as an effective tool for enhancing education without compromising our core values of integrity and respect for human creativity.”

Bradford said the Lindisfarne.ai platform is “an Australian first”.

“This platform operates with all the core functionality one would see on ChatGPT4, but it is Lindisfarne branded and has stronger custom guardrails in place; a higher level of security, safety and integrity has been applied to its back end,” he said.

“Lindisfarne.ai is currently only available to staff, supporting integration of AI into mostly administrative and planning aspects of our teaching and learning program.”

Through this initiative, the school’s students have benefitted from greater personalisation of learning, better meeting their unique needs.

“We have begun to prioritise educating all members of our school community about responsible AI use, with training sessions that emphasise critical thinking and caution when working with AI-generated content,” Bradford said.

“This ensures our students, and the community, can use these tools effectively while understanding their limitations and risks.”

Students playing active role in school’s tech trajectory

A critical component of Lindisfarne's AI strategy is the Tech Innovators Forum, created earlier this year as a student-led group that now regularly meets each term.

The forum provides students with a platform to explore AI applications, share ideas, and collaborate on innovative projects. Principal Stuart Marquardt says the forum “fosters a culture of curiosity and creativity, empowering students to take an active role in shaping the future of technology in education.”

"By embracing AI and fostering a spirit of innovation, we aim to equip our students with the skills they need to thrive in a rapidly evolving world,” Marquardt told The Educator.

"Our commitment is not just about adopting technology, but ensuring it serves educational excellence and prepares our students for the challenges ahead."

Marquardt said that as AI continues to transform the educational landscape, Lindisfarne “remains at the forefront” of this change.

“Through thoughtful integration, a strong focus on ethics, and a commitment to innovation, we are paving the way for a new era of teaching and learning,” Marquardt said.

“By embracing these technologies responsibly, we aim to create a dynamic environment where students can flourish and lead in the future.”

‘Students were initially cautious’

Ella McCluskey, a Year 11 student at Lindisfarne, is a member of the Tech Innovators Forum. She recalled the moment when Lindisfarne.ai was first put before the forum for consideration, saying there was a widespread consensus that students need to become familiar with how to use this technology appropriately before they are given the freedom to use it.   

“After insightful discussion and input from students within the school, it was agreed that AI such as ChatGPT, and primarily Lindisfarne’s inspired version, ‘Lindisfarne GPT’ should be welcomed due to the exciting benefits they can provide students, to improve and optimise their learning,” she said.

“Rather than limiting usage, Lindisfarne, specifically the Tech Innovators Forum, hopes to encourage the use of AI in all aspects of learning, and teach students new ways of using the technology that won't pose a threat to the originality of their work or their creative thinking skills.”

McCluskey said moving forward, it is crucial that students are first taught how to appropriately use this technology in innovative ways, to minimise any risk of jeopardising the integrity of their work.

‘AI is like having an expert teacher in the room’

Scott Mellis, Director of Digital and Emerging Technologies said Lindisfarne has been “very proactive in exploring the potential for AI in education.”

“Student-led forums discussing how AI can be implemented within the curriculum have been a wonderful place to openly discuss everyone's excitement and concerns,” Mellis told The Educator.

“As a teacher who is working with students who are coding AI has been an amazing support. It's like having a tech expert in the room who can debug very quickly and provide you with a better version of the code.”

Mellis said discussions around how to acknowledge the use of AI are “ongoing and it's a fast-moving space.”

“Policies and procedures, the school have in place I think give everyone flexibility for teaching and learning with AI. Now part of the equation,” he said. “AI provides a more academic way to research topic than Googling”.