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It was a glimmer of a concept for myself and Rick Cowell of the ANME - Association of Network Managers in Education in May 2023 – helping schools understand what AI technology is, how it can help everyone in education and then actually giving delegates the bump start they need to get started.

Too many events in recent times focus on passive listening to opinions and information, usually online. People tend to sign up, switch on, switch off and move on.

Any light bulb moments tend to be brief flickers, quickly overshadowed by something less important but more urgent.

To bring about adoption of something new, people need be immersed and inspired. They need to be shown evidence, need the opportunity to discuss, to challenge and to process. Then, ideally, given the springboard to get started.

And judging by the social media feedback we received after our Embracing AI in Education event, that’s exactly what we achieved.

A few snapshots here, or visit #EmbracingAI on Twitter (not known as X. By anyone...) for more, as well as a commentary of the day's events.

After a welcome to 30 or so delegates into our Experience Centre, it was wonderful to see people meeting old friends and making new ones. Handshakes, happy smiles and a decent dose of warm embraces.

Which is exactly one of the key objectives of this event, and exactly why we chose such a human event name; EMBRACING AI in Education.

We wanted to expose and capture the human side of AI in education.

AI is nothing without the people to bring it to life, and all the better when there’s a mix of school leaders, Network Managers, curriculum experts, IT Directors and a sprinkling of SEND and CPD leads in the room.

Different perspectives curated to bring about vibrant discussion and challenge, not to mention the 50 or so who signed up to view live online.

As well as setting the scene for the day, in my introduction I shared some comments from the event registration forms, where I asked where delegates are now with AI.

First of all? A highlight...

We have made a great start in the primary school. Introducing AI in the curriculum from Y3 to Y6 with various activities and themes.

My favourite - "a bull in a china shop", commented a Senior Infrastructure Technician. Then imagined by Bing Image Creator...

And a selection of others...

Our school is working towards embracing AI as part of our organisation but I feel the Trust isn't doing this
Nothing at the moment apart from a bit of panic!
feeling threatened by the potential of AI to disrupt the educational status quo
Starting to explore the possibilities of using AI with a few trail blazers
Very new but I do have the attention of leadership which will help

The thirty or so responses highlighted the vast differences between individuals, with notable, regular references to the need for leadership buy-in.

The importance of ‘impact’ is more prominent than ever in education, so in my intro I also asked delegates to pin down where they are now with AI, on a scale of 1-10, using a live poll.

1 – Social Distancing 10 – Full Embrace

What impact would attending our event have? How might we change attitudes and how will people change what they do as a result?

We started with a disparate, almost mirrored spread of caution and enthusiasm with a mean average score of 5.6/10 – a polite handshake, it’s fair to say.

And we closed with a marked shift in the mean average to 7.8/10. Behind this mean average is a more interesting stat – initially, nearly 40% marked between 1 and 3 out of 10.  After the event? Almost everyone was keen.

Content is king of course – and I was proud to bring together four excellent, engaging presenters who inspired us, challenged us and generally bent our brains into a mix of trepidation, excitement and wonder. It was superb.

Some key takeaways? Tricky, as there were so many…

Dr Nick Jackson highlights that we’re at brick phone stage – we’ll look back at AI in 2023 with bemusement as we do to retro car phones of the 1980s. Except the pace will be far, far quicker. Think 2025.

Dr Nick Jackson presenting
Dr Nick Jackson presenting

AI is here, and as Gary Henderson reminds us, no matter what we do as educators, our students are using it. It’s both essential and our responsibility to keep up, and even better, stay ahead if we can.

Gary Henderson presenting
Gary Henderson presenting

Oli Trussell showcased what Google is bringing to the table – a relentlessly long list of tools, tips and tricks – as much highlighting the awesomeness Google and AI brings as it does the bewilderment and sheer range of options out there.

And Daren White showed us the immediacy of what’s available to support effective teaching, whilst reminding us we need to be responsible and critical – think what Google Translate makes of the words 'foul' ‘strike’ and ‘match’ – football themed? Or a story about a smelly underpaid train driver lighting a candle?

Then, after a decent amount of mingling time and a buzzy, chatty hour for lunch, we moved onto the workshops.

‘Involve me and I learn’ was the order of the afternoon, and it was fabulous to see a mix of cogs whirring, people laughing, pondering and chatting, as well as loads of technology being used in our Experience Centre.

Daren White was compering, strolling around the space evoking his inner bingo caller he didn’t realise existed. Instructions, ideas and encouragement bellowing through the mic, running a set of fast-paced discussions and content sessions.

Additionally, we welcomed Canva to the mix of the day - showcasing their outstanding, ever-growing suite of content creation tools for education - with generative AI at the forefront. Elisabeth Bostwick hosted our online delegates on a 'Getting Started' session with Canva Magic Design AI.

And we're not sure who, but one lucky delegate received our only pair of Canva socks in their swag bag!

To close the day, Dave Leonard took the mic, hosting a Panel Discussion with the presenters, as well as some challenging Q&A from the delegates.

Final panel discussion
Final panel discussion

All in all, an exciting, varied and informative day.

And also a sociable day. We all enjoyed the company of old friends, made new ones and also met people we've only known online for the first time.

For me, it's this dynamic where the magic happens - people, relationships, sharing, listening and learning. This is the groundwork we need to properly embrace AI. It's also the groundwork we need for everything we do in education.


Date: 9th October 2023

Written by Ed Fairfield

Commercial Director, Elementary Technology
Vice Chair of Naace – the EdTech Association - a charity supporting schools on effective use of technology

Email: e.fairfield@elementaryuk.com

Twitter: @mreddtech

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