Why AI literacy is critical for teachers in 2024

Why AI literacy is critical for teachers in 2024

Over the last two years, the Australian K-12 education space has seen AI evolve at a dizzying pace, and it seems that each day brings an exciting innovation in this ever-growing industry.

According to a recent McKinsey report, Generative Ai (Gen AI) is forecast to generate trillions of dollars of value to the global economy, promising a massive impact on business worldwide.

Unsurprisingly, the potential associated with this market has created a global AI arms race, and education is a sector that is almost certain to reap some of the biggest rewards.

A key advancement in Gen AI, and one which is already seeing some mind-bending results, is multimodal AI – systems that can understand and generate information across multiple forms of data, such as text, images, and sounds.

Earlier this month, Microsoft Research Asia introduced VASA-1, an AI that animates a photo to sync with any audio, paving the way for real-time engagements with lifelike avatars that emulate human conversational behaviours.

For example, a teacher could use conceivably animate a photo of a students’ favourite sports star, musical artist, or actor explaining a mathematical concept to them in voice, and with the precise mannerisms, of that celebrity. One can easily see the potential for improved student engagement here.

A revolutionary tool – if implemented thoughtfully

Adam Pollington, Education Director, Microsoft ANZ describes Gen A as “a powerful, enabling tool for teachers and students alike”.

“For teachers, it has the potential to save precious time, particularly with lesson preparation, content development and administrative tasks,” Pollington told The Educator.

“Teachers consistently report high workloads and administrative burdens. This technology provides an opportunity to address these challenges.” 

Pollington said Gen AI can also help provide equitable access to educational resources, benefiting students regardless of their location or background.

“When implemented thoughtfully, it can revolutionise the learning experience and provide valuable hands-on skills,” he said.

“We believe teachers should have control and agency over decisions regarding how and when to best use the technology to support their specific needs.”

Pollington said the EdChat pilots with South Australia and New South Wales’s Department of Education are great examples of this.

Edchat – developed by the SA Education Department and Microsoft – is an AI chatbot similar to ChatGPT but designed for educational use. In 2023, an eight-week trial of the chatbot explored the use of AI to support student learning and understand the benefits and risks of these new technologies.

“Our role at Microsoft is to collaborate with schools and education organisations to provide the tools, capabilities and advice on how to create and deploy solutions that are safe, responsible and tailored for education.”

High hopes for quick AI adaption

Pollington said that as shown during the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia’s educators have a unique ability to adapt to new technologies and teaching methods, and are “globally respected for being innovative.””

“Over the last 18 months, we have received highly positive feedback from teachers using generative AI,” he said.

“From time saving, tailoring learning content based on students' needs, to generating new ideas and content for teaching, the technology can enhance personalised learning and automate mundane tasks.”

Pollington noted that the South Australian and NSW education departments have both been focusing on teachers’ professional development as a core part of their pilot.

“This is an important step in supporting these professionals with AI literacy and ethical considerations so that they can use Gen AI confidently and effectively,” he said.

“The Australian Framework for Generative AI in Schools has also helped to clarify considerations for ensuring that the use of the technology is responsible, equitable and safe.”

Pollington said while it’s too early to tell exactly what Australian teachers’ attitudes to Gen AI are, a recent Standford AI Index report found that U.S teachers and students have “overwhelmingly positive” attitudes towards it.

“From what we have observed so far in the pilot programs and discussions with teachers, schools and departments of education, we are on a promising trajectory, and we expect to see similar trends in Australia.”