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Opportunities and Guidelines for the Effective, Equitable Use of AI in Education

“Personalizing education is often what comes to mind when talking about the benefits of AI in education, but I would say that improving its quality by providing feedback to teachers in real time or for their professional reflection is another important opportunity. The risks of AI for amplifying inequity are often highlighted, but it also has the potential of reducing achievement gaps and making education more inclusive.”

Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, PhD, Senior Analyst and Deputy Head, Directorate for Education and Skills, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

AI technology, still in its nascent stages, is rapidly evolving and finding its footing in various sectors, including digital education. Its potential and exploratory applications are particularly promising, offering personalized learning paths, adaptive teaching methods, and interactive learning environments. But this pioneering phase of AI is marked by a blend of enthusiasm and caution, as stakeholders seek to understand and optimize its capabilities while addressing ethical, privacy, and equity concerns.

The report “Opportunities, Guidelines, and Guardrails for Effective and Equitable Use of AI in Education” from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Directorate for Education and Skills in cooperation with Education International highlights both the opportunities and risks associated with the implementation of AI in education.

The report emphasizes the potential of AI in enhancing educational quality and equity, aiding personalized teaching, and improving accessibility for learners with special needs. However, it also identifies risks like exacerbating inequalities, privacy and data security concerns, the potential bias in AI algorithms, and the challenges of integrating AI into existing educational frameworks. The report advocates for a balanced and ethical use of AI, emphasizing teacher training, infrastructure development, and collaborative approaches to technology implementation in education.

To better guide and inform educators and institutions on the subject, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Directorate for Education and Skills recently hosted a panel called “Generative AI in Education.”

Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, a senior analyst and deputy head for OECD’s Directorate for Education and Skills moderated the panel and discussed with how governments and institutions can foster 21st-century skills in education through the use of various technology, policy, and teaching pedagogy tools.

Meet the Expert: Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin

Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin

Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, PhD, Senior Analyst and Deputy Head, Directorate for Education and Skills, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin is a senior analyst and deputy head of the “Innovation and Measuring Progress” Division at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (Directorate for Education and Skills). He currently leads work on education during the Covid-19 crisis and the OECD’s project on digitalization in education, “Smart data and digital technology in education: AI, learning analytics and beyond.”

Dr. Vincent-Lancrin also focuses on disciplined innovation and change management, showing what kind of support, environment, and tools school teachers and university professors could give to improve their teaching and students’ learning. Generally speaking, he works on educational innovation, research, higher education, and how new trends influence the future of learning and education policy at the schooling and higher education levels.

Dr. Vincent-Lancrin holds a PhD in philosophy and economics from the University of Paris, a master’s degree in economics from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Paris, and a grande école diploma in public management and action from the ESCP Business School.

The Rise of AI in Digital Education

A turning point in digital education was marked by the emergence of generative AI in 2022 and 2023, as demonstrated by generative AI technologies (such as large language learning models like ChatGPT and SAGE). These developments not only showed the public AI’s potential but also spurred important discussions on how to balance the roles of humans and AI in learning.

Numerous options exist, such as more effective educational procedures, individualized learning experiences, and improved accessibility for students with special needs. But there are also possible downsides, such as the possibility of instructors and students losing their skills, the dependence on AI for cognitive tasks, and the upheaval of conventional teaching methods.

The tremendous impact of artificial intelligence raises important concerns like:

  • How does AI improve human abilities?
  • Does the use of human skills decrease when AI takes over things that humans can do?

Artificial Intelligence presents challenges to conventional teaching and assessment approaches in education. This all-encompassing technology could lead to a new “industrial revolution,” which would immensely impact education.

These developments emphasize how complex and critical it is becoming to mindfully integrate digital technology into education, particularly in light of disruptive AI technologies that can potentially change classroom dynamics. Furthermore, this technological change emphasizes how quickly educators must innovate and adapt to make sure that the incorporation of AI improves rather than degrades educational equity and quality.

Opportunities for AI in Education

Several transformative possibilities are presented by the incorporation of AI in education, such as the ability to customize instruction, promote diversity and equity in the classroom, empower teachers, and create learning communities.

“Personalizing education is often what comes to mind when talking about the benefits of AI in education, but I would say that improving its quality by providing feedback to teachers in real time or for their professional reflection is another important opportunity,” shared Dr. Vincent-Lancrin. “The risks of AI for amplifying inequity are often highlighted, but it also has the potential of reducing achievement gaps and making education more inclusive.”

Adaptive learning systems driven by AI have the potential to greatly customize instruction. These resources offer an in-depth understanding of every learner’s development, enabling customized instruction. They increase classroom autonomy and engagement by assisting teachers in concentrating on teaching rather than administrative duties. Additionally, by providing real-time feedback and extra tutoring support, technology like classroom analytics and social robots help educators even more.

“Assistive technologies for students with special needs are the obvious case, but developers should also start focusing on how adaptive learning systems can help pupils with lower initial academic achievement to catch up with their more advanced peers,” explained Dr. Vincent-Lancrin.

AI technologies play a critical role in supporting inclusive education by increasing accessibility, ease of use, and adaptability for both educators and learners. This presents enormous opportunities for enhancing equity and inclusivity in education. Students with visual or hearing impairments benefit greatly from speech-to-text and auto-captioning tools. AI’s early detection capabilities can also recognize learning disabilities like dyslexia or dyscalculia, allowing for prompt therapies. AI can help create focused assistance plans for students at risk of dropping out, especially those from underprivileged families, in areas with strong information systems.

The ability of qualified teachers to incorporate these technologies into their lesson plans is essential for the successful application of AI in education. Teachers can focus more on instructional design and interactive activities by using AI to streamline administrative work. AI makes it easier to create dynamic learning communities outside of individual classrooms, which improves teacher cooperation and professional growth. Applications of generative AI, such as large language models, open up new possibilities for innovative teaching methods and support students’ transition from memorization to developing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

But for instructors and students to take full advantage of these opportunities, the proper resources and guidelines must be provided.

Potential Risks for AI in Education

At the same time there are potential risks associated with the use of generative AI tools in education, including exacerbating existing inequality and access issues, data privacy and ethical dilemmas, and impacts on curriculum and technology dependency.

“The greatest risk of using AI in education would be to add a cost to education for no benefit—be in terms of quality, efficiency or equality of opportunities,” stated Dr. Vincent-Lancrin. “Another possible risk would be for people to believe that AI can replace humans and delegate way more than what AI can handle.”

The risk of increasing educational inequalities is a significant concern. Students with limited access to technology or those from less tech-savvy backgrounds may fall behind. Furthermore, the effectiveness of AI tools might not be uniform across all student groups, potentially benefiting those already advantaged while leaving others behind. This disparity can manifest in various forms, from access to resources to the ability of educators and students to effectively utilize the technology.

The use of AI in education also raises critical issues around data privacy and security. Handling sensitive personal information of students and teachers is a major concern. Additionally, AI’s role in decision-making processes, such as identifying students at risk of dropping out, can introduce biases and lead to unethical outcomes, such as stigmatization or unfair treatment of certain student groups.

At the same time, implementing AI tools could inadvertently prioritize certain subjects or learning styles that are more amenable to digital formats, potentially narrowing the curriculum and affecting the overall quality of education. Overreliance on technology could lead to a decline in crucial human skills and increased dependency on AI for tasks vital for personal and professional success. These concerns are amplified in the context of generative AI, which also brings challenges related to the accuracy and cultural relevance of the content it generates.

“In many cases, this could be avoided by providing adequate learning opportunities and understanding of the possibilities of AI in education to education professionals,” Dr. Vincent-Lancrin mentioned, pointing to a mindful approach to leveraging these technologies.

Efforts to mitigate these risks require a comprehensive approach, encompassing policy development, investment in digital infrastructure, and ethical guidelines for using AI in education.

How to Ensure the Use of AI for Effective, Equitable Education

With the potential opportunities and risks in mind, the report outlines several key guidelines for the effective and equitable use of AI in education.

The report outlines nine guidelines for the effective and equitable use of AI in education:

  1. Equitable Access to Affordable High-Quality Connectivity: Educational jurisdictions should create digital infrastructures accessible to all learners and educators, in and out of school, allowing for a quick and equitable shift to remote learning if necessary.
  2. Equitable Access to and Use of Digital Learning Resources: Educational jurisdictions should provide quality digital learning resources accessible to teachers and students in school and at home, used at teachers’ professional discretion.
  3. Teacher Agency and Professional Learning: Digital learning resources should become an integral part of professional competencies for teachers, school principals, and educators, fostered in initial education and continuous professional learning.
  4. Student and Teacher Wellbeing: The use and development of AI-enabled technology should prioritize learners’ and teachers’ wellbeing, maintaining a balance between digital and non-digital activities and ensuring ethical guidelines on digital communications.
  5. Co-creation of AI-Enabled Digital Learning Tools: Jurisdictions should involve teachers, students, and end-users as co-designers in technology development, fostering an innovation-friendly ecosystem for experimentation and piloting with support from teachers and learners.
  6. Research and Co-creation of Evidence through Disciplined Innovation: Research on the effective use of digital tools in education should be encouraged, involving teachers in practice-engaged projects, co-designing technology uses, and evaluating and documenting conditions for successful technology integration.
  7. Ethics, Safety, and Data Protection: Data protection policies must ensure that data collection contributes to educational effectiveness and equity while protecting privacy. Jurisdictions should guide data protection and address algorithmic bias and safety concerns in their policies.
  8. Transparency, Explainability, and Negotiation: Educational jurisdictions must be transparent about the objectives and processes of AI and digital tools, especially those with high stakes. Such tools must be discussed and negotiated with all educational stakeholders.
  9. Human Support and Alternatives: As AI-enabled tools automate educational processes, it is crucial to ensure timely human support is available and provide a human alternative to AI-enabled tools where appropriate.

“Of course, the guidelines need to be adapted to countries and their context,” Dr. Vincent-Lancrin explained the importance of localizing and leveraging the guidelines for various learning environments. “Hardware and connectivity present different challenges according to countries. It depends on the country’s geography and how the income is distributed in the country. So for example Brazil, Canada, and Chad face quite different challenges. The same is true in terms of digital learning resources and how they should be provided. In some cases it is good to provide some centrally—that’s what they do in India, and they are right. In other cases, for example in the European Nordic countries, it is not necessary and just providing schools with public funds to procure them seems to work.”

Ultimately the report emphasizes the need for equitable access to quality digital infrastructure, ensuring all learners and educators can participate in digital learning. The guidelines also focus on making quality digital learning resources universally accessible, supporting inclusive education. And, it is crucial for institutions leveraging the technology to stress the importance of teacher agency and professional learning, advocating for integrating digital resource use into teacher training and continuous professional development.

By using these guidelines, educators can better support a balanced and equitable integration of AI in education, considering the diverse needs of students and educators and the evolving landscape of digital technology as it continues to evolve.

Chelsea Toczauer

Chelsea Toczauer is a journalist with experience managing publications at several global universities and companies related to higher education, logistics, and trade. She holds two BAs in international relations and asian languages and cultures from the University of Southern California, as well as a double accredited US-Chinese MA in international studies from the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University joint degree program. Toczauer speaks Mandarin and Russian.