Using AI to prepare for the ‘new normal’ in education

Posted on 5th June 2020

Posted by CENTURY

Jonathan Gunzi is Head of Secondary at Hastings School, an international school in Madrid that teaches the English curriculum to pupils from ages two to 18. Hastings is part of the Cognita Schools Group, which runs 77 schools across Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Hastings began using CENTURY in April this year. The school’s students have since answered more than 300,000 questions, completing almost 40,000 nuggets (microlessons). The platform’s AI has identified and made learning recommendations for 19,000 misconceptions of learners.

With Spain enduring some of the strictest lockdown measures anywhere in the world, we spoke to Jonathan to hear how his school is using CENTURY to ensure students continue to learn throughout the disruption – and beyond.

How does Hastings School approach education technology?

My plan is to bring learning into the 21st century. When I arrived in September, I made a conscious decision to embrace technology in and out of the classroom. In previous schools I ran trials that proved that technology can improve teaching and learning, rather than just using technology for technology’s sake – that has become my guiding principle.

At Hastings, we value good pupil feedback while maintaining a steady pace of learning. We also seek to individualise learning. Technology can really help us here. 

On top of this, teacher workload is a big issue in our industry. It can be horrendous for teachers, they can face huge pressure, especially English teachers marking things like SPaG. Technology can definitely complement teachers and improve their working lives, without replacing them.

What are your main considerations when choosing new technology?

With any technology, ease of use is very important. In an education setting, it’s vital that technology has a solid, well thought out application to our specifications. It must tie in nicely with the curriculum. 

With that in mind, the feedback that students get, as well as the ability to know what they need to do next, are important. That’s why we were attracted to CENTURY, with its AI-powered learning pathways.

Why did you choose CENTURY?

We’ve used AI platforms in my previous school and in my current school we used one specifically for science. I was able to compare CENTURY with other platforms – and the crucial difference was the quality of instruction. My own children even commented on this quite quickly. 

After looking into CENTURY I was confident that it doesn’t replace teachers, but augments them nicely. The ability for students to redo quizzes when they want to, with different questions, is attractive, as it challenges students to fulfil their potential. The whole platform is very user friendly, it looks good and is easy to navigate – which sounds simple, but can make all the difference, especially in an educational setting.

How have you approached digital learning during the coronavirus pandemic?

CENTURY has helped immensely during this period. In Spain, students were not allowed out of the house, so CENTURY came in just at the right time. 

All teachers know that during holidays, let alone lockdown, there’s always a dip in learning. CENTURY might just be one of those things that we can use to solve this everlasting problem in education. Children might no longer come back from holidays requiring things to be covered again. Over the holidays, children are set work on CENTURY and are now motivated to learn when they otherwise would have not been.

We are lucky to have worked very closely with our parents. Their support has been crucial and they have been very helpful in terms of helping to continue education. Being in such an extreme lockdown, having great support from parents was vital. We were quite strict with our demands on children during lockdown. This will eventually create independence. 

I like that students don’t have to worry about the next piece of learning – it is given to them by the AI in a personalised way. The AI is amazing, as it offers constant stretch and challenge to every student.

The whole experience of lockdown creates a certain amount of independence. We complain as teachers that students need spoon-feeding, but using CENTURY is definitely a good way of combating that.

We are supposedly back to some sort of normal in September, but with inevitable restrictions. CENTURY will continue to be an important part of learning, especially if some teachers and students will be still required to periodically isolate.

How did you implement CENTURY successfully?

My experience has been that the system works very well when let loose, rather than introduced with strict oversight.

To implement this, I wrote to parents a week before the Easter holidays and told them that we will be holding assemblies for them on using CENTURY. Each year group had two 50 minute assemblies, followed by a survey to check everyone had access. We used the CENTURY training resources and shared our screen to give parents and students the training. In these assemblies, I asked parents to run their own trials with the platform, repeating this for each year group and subject. These sessions were recorded and shared. 

In terms of what learning to do at home, I gave our parents my expectations for students’ learning – in terms of time rather than specific pieces of learning, which I had agreed with Heads of Department. This meant that students would complete the materials most suitable for their individual needs, rather than work that was either too difficult or easy for them.

How did parents respond to their children using AI at school?

Our parents responded very positively. I only had one issue – which in a fee paying school is pretty good going – regarding working over the Holy Week. 

But even after the Easter holidays, I wrote to all parents to share students’ usage and to reward the highest users. These parents wrote back saying what a great experience it was using the platform, and as a parent I also agree.

How have teachers found using CENTURY?

Teachers have responded well to the platform. Heads of Department have been responsible for the setting of work, but teachers are increasingly taking ownership of this. There has been a period of finding our feet, as with any new strategy, but the training from Charles and the team at CENTURY has been excellent. Teachers are now setting assignments on the platform, complementing the great role played by the AI. The feedback I’m hearing is that teachers are seeing the real benefits of letting the platform’s AI run loose. It’s not just AI, though – for example, my daughter has a maths assessment tomorrow and a teacher set a specific revision assignment for her to do today. She says that was an ideal way to prepare for the test.

In terms of workload, one of my teachers did a training session on CENTURY for other schools in which she said the platform is resulting in a huge reduction in pressure and workload, especially for areas like English in which the amount of marking is enormously high.

What advice would you give anyone considering using CENTURY?

I would say let the AI run its course for a while before asking your teachers to take over in terms of assigning content. 

The instant feedback has been valuable for students, but the parents need to see something as well, rather than endless tasks via emails. The data dashboards from CENTURY are brilliant for this purpose – many of our parents actively look at this data to see what their students need to do to stretch themselves. 

It’s a really worthwhile tool and I’m so pleased we came across it. I’m also pleased we got in sooner than later – I’d advise other school leaders to get this going as soon as possible in order to best prepare students for coming back to school in September.

CENTURY is available for free for both schools and families during the school closures. Learn more about how CENTURY can supercharge your students’ learning.

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