Six ways FE colleges can help learners and teachers thrive in an AI-enabled world

Michael Webb
Michael Webb

A new set of guiding principles from Jisc and AoC makes it easier for colleges to use AI safely, responsibly and effectively.

Students studying together on laptops

As AI accelerates its transformation of education, the workplace and society in general, it’s increasingly clear that the choice is no longer whether to use it, but when. And, more importantly, how.

It’s not an easy question to answer but, especially for FE colleges, it’s of paramount importance. At the same time as dealing with other imperatives such as digital transformation, budget cuts and staff workloads, many are finding it hard to navigate the additional challenges that generative AI brings into the equation.

To make things easier, Jisc and the Association of Colleges Technology Reference Group have created a new set of guiding principles for the use of AI in FE colleges.

Making sense of AI

The proliferation of generative AI tools means they are now built into platforms that we all use on a daily basis - some free of charge, others not. While the issues of inaccuracy, misinformation and bias have been well documented, there remain many ethical and societal concerns about AI and how to use it safely. Add to that the plethora of new products coming to market, and the problems of identifying the right tools to meet education-specific needs can seem insurmountable.

On top of everything else they have to do, should college leaders be spending their time assessing what the best approach to AI adoption should be for their particular institution? Equally, how many staff have the bandwidth to find out exactly which AI tools will benefit themselves and their learners the most?

The momentum of AI and its impact on education are only set to increase, however. The pressing need right now is to make it easier for FE colleges to adopt the technology in a way that best suits their individual needs, at a pace and cost that match their capabilities.

The importance of principles

The basis for any system or chain of reasoning is a set of fundamental principles, and the same holds true for adopting AI across FE.

A set of clear guiding principles, with safety for learners and teachers at its core, would enable colleges to take full advantage of AI in their daily activities. Shared across the sector, it would provide a framework for building an AI adoption strategy and help to ensure equality of opportunity for all, regardless of location.

This is why Jisc has worked with the AoC TRG to produce six guiding principles that will help FE colleges maximise the opportunities that AI tools offer for positive change.

Centred around the fair and responsible use of AI, they build on wider activity including the UK government’s white paper ‘A pro-innovation approach to AI regulation’, approaches taken in the university sector led by the Russell Group and the Department for Education’s policy paper ‘Generative AI in education’.

Driving sector-wide and college-specific change

While these shared principles are designed to form a framework which can be applied across the sector, they also provide a basis for identifying more specific ways in which individual colleges can use AI tools to benefit their own staff and learners.

Reports by Jisc and the Department for Education show that the initial promise of AI to help staff save time is being borne out in practice, and we are already seeing examples of how AI can present new learning and teaching opportunities. However, the sector needs to work collaboratively in order to realise these benefits.

The size and speed of the changes ahead means we will be stronger if we work together, guided by a shared set of principles.

Further information

Principles for the use of AI in FE colleges by Jisc and the AoC TRG offers guidance for effective AI adoption.

The Russell Group’s ‘principles on the use of generative AI tools in education’ provides a template for principles of AI in education.

The Department for Education’s ‘Generative artificial intelligence (AI) in education’ lays the foundation for expectations of colleges.

The UK Government’s AI white paper ‘A pro-innovation approach to AI regulation’ provides principles for safe and responsible use of AI.

Jisc’s ‘A Generative AI Primer’ lays out the main challenges and opportunities of AI in education.

About the author

Michael Webb
Michael Webb
Director of technology and analytics

I lead our work supporting the responsible and effective adoption of artificial intelligence across the education sector, through a range of pilots, advice, guidance, and community support activities.