How Eton College uses AI to bolster traditional teaching
Founded by King Henry VI in 1440, Eton College is the embodiment of tradition and rigour in education. Producing 20 Prime Ministers over six centuries, its influence can be seen in both educational and popular culture across the world.
But 600 years later, its boys are now learning with help from a potentially surprising source – artificial intelligence. AI is now playing an important role in Eton’s classrooms, as its teachers have adopted cutting-edge AI-powered learning technologies to teach English grammar.
Since starting using CENTURY in September 2019, Eton’s boys have completed more than 10,000 micro-lessons on CENTURY, with the platform’s AI making thousands of learning recommendations to bolster their strengths and remedy any misconceptions.
We spoke to Jonnie Noakes, Director of Teaching and Learning at Eton College, to learn more.
How does Eton College blend tradition with advanced technologies like artificial intelligence?
While Eton values traditional forms of academic learning and scholarship, we are also very interested in trialling and using innovations. One of the most promising and exciting of these is the application of AI in education, which looks set to offer schools both challenges and opportunities.
If educators can stay ahead of these developments and help to shape them, there’s a real chance that in future we shall be able to blend what the human mind does best – including creativity, emotionally-informed insight, global intelligence, appreciation of beauty, humour and metaphor – with the astonishing power of what AI can do so much better than the human mind.
How can AI change the way that children learn?
The potential for AI to enhance education, if it is developed by educators and used in a way that serves their educational aims, is simply huge. It can’t do everything teachers can do – not least because teaching is partly about human relationships – but it can do specific tasks much faster and much better than any teacher can.
It is already emerging as an influential tool for personalising and differentiating pupils’ learning: by accurately measuring each pupil’s individual strengths and weaknesses, even an adaptive platform can give each pupil a path that targets the areas they most need to improve. An AI platform can go further by reading their learning behaviours and performance to draw conclusions about how they learn, and where the individual student needs to go next.
How does CENTURY help your students to learn?
The CENTURY platform learns all the time by reacting to each pupil’s performance and building a unique path for a particular pupil at any time. In this sense the platform is responsive in the way a good teacher is to each pupil’s performance. This is very reassuring for teachers.
It also has the great benefit that it feeds both the pupil and the teacher very granular data about that pupil’s performance. I wouldn’t use it for all types of learning – those that advance best through discussion of ideas, for example – but for certain curriculum areas such as improving accuracy in spelling, punctuation and grammar it is highly effective.
In which subject areas are you seeing particular benefit from CENTURY?
CENTURY is a brilliant solution to how to teach the tricky area of spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG). By identifying exactly what pupils need to learn and by taking them down their individual learning paths it makes the process of improving their knowledge of SPaG much more efficient.
It removes the time-wasting process of spending whole-class time on details of SPaG that some of the pupils already understand. It also gives the teacher really useful and comprehensive data on what the pupils know and on their progress (including some of their learning habits) in areas they need to improve.
For an English teacher, it’s rare to get this sort of detailed data. CENTURY Tech solves this. It also frees up time for focusing on reading and writing tasks in class whilst setting a knowledge-check homework on CENTURY Tech which is AI-marked.
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