Using AI to empower classrooms

Wednesday, 08 November, 2023

Using AI to empower classrooms

The South Australia Department for Education has built a chatbot that has been designed specifically for teaching and learning.

EdChat’ is one of the first AI chatbots in the world to be introduced in an educational setting. It was designed in partnership with Microsoft and uses the Azure OpenAI service, powered by the same technology as ChatGPT. Students can enter prompts to get information on a topic, ask for creative suggestions or analyse complex ideas through EdChat’s simple, intuitive interface designed by the Department’s IT partner, Insight.

The chatbot is a critical part of the Department’s vision to tackle the generative AI disruption head-on, empowering students to go into the world with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the era of AI.

“We realised that if this tool is out there and if it’s going to transform the future workforce, the only question to ask ourselves is ‘how do we learn to use this safely and ethically to positively impact teaching and learning?’” said Martin Westwell, Chief Executive of the SA Department for Education.

“EdChat is the first step in our strategy to maximise the value AI can deliver in the education space, while minimising the risk.”

More than 1500 students and 150 educators from eight schools in SA took part in an initial eight-week trial completed in August this year. School principals had full control over how many students and teachers used EdChat, and how they used it during the trial period.

A key element of the trial was testing the technology in an actual school setting by putting the chatbot into the hands of students and teachers, so the Department could gain a better understanding of the solution’s limits and abilities.

“Going into this project, the Department was very aware that we were navigating uncharted waters,” said Daniel Hughes, Chief Information Officer at the Department.

“This kind of project had never been done before and we didn’t have all the answers, so we relied heavily on the Microsoft team to guide us through the process.”

The two biggest concerns going into the project were student data privacy and the appropriate use of AI. From a technical perspective, the Department was able to navigate those challenges by leveraging its existing investment in Microsoft technology, and its built-in mechanisms for data collection and secure storage.

As this service is hosted in the Department’s private tenancy, safety measures and controls have been built into the system, utilising the Azure AI Content Safety service. By detecting and blocking potentially harmful content flowing through the AI system, the Department can be confident that EdChat is safe and appropriate for students. Comprehensive logging of all interactions with EdChat also ensures that student data is kept secure while still allowing school staff visibility over student usage, even on the weekends and outside of school.

With students given free rein over how they used EdChat and what prompts they could enter, the trial was also a test of how effective EdChat’s guardrails and safety controls were. Upon completion of the trial, the Department has earned confidence in EdChat’s underlying architecture and the efficacy of the controls in place.

“Our next steps are to get EdChat out to the schools and students who stand to benefit the most from AI. Schools in remote or rural areas and those that serve communities in lower socioeconomic areas can explore differentiated learning, and other ways to use AI to drive equity in education,” Hughes said.

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