Betty Obura Ogange and Walter Buyu
The use of emerging technologies is gaining traction in education and training, prompted by increased availability of cheaper, more powerful computing technologies. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and AR/VR (Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality) provide newer possibilities in the delivery of learning. Many studies have reported the benefits of using technology in learning and training, which include improved knowledge retention, motivation, collaboration, engagement, self-paced learning as well as better completion rates in teacher professional development (TPD) programmes.
The unprecedented developments due to COVID-19 led to the closure of educational institutions around the world, raising the need for further skills development among teachers, to be able to support distance and online learning. Education leaders continue to seek sustainable models of resource development and training that are efficient yet cost-effective. Self-learning approaches are on the increase, as they ensure that many more teachers can access quality learning resources and take courses by themselves, sometimes with automated assistance.
The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) believes that collaboration and resource sharing are important in addressing the adverse impact of the economic, social and health challenges faced today. Through partnerships, COL leverages on shared values, which include mutual respect, equity and inclusion as well as a commitment to respond to the needs of stakeholders. Access to pooled resources, shared expertise, and online training through a common platform provide the synergies for improved efficiency in such partnerships.
The E-library for Teachers project, recently launched by a partnership between UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE) and NetDragon, is a strategy for creating a resilient ecosystem for teacher capacity development, especially in developing country contexts. As co-partner in the project, COL draws from its many years of experience in online course development, Open Educational Resources (OER) and AI, as well as invaluable partnerships across the Commonwealth, to create quality learning experiences for teachers.
Despite its potential to empower teachers, the use of AI applications to augment and enhance teaching and teacher capacity building is still in its formative stages. AI is able to power platform- or course-level solutions, as it has the benefits of automation, smart decision-making and enhanced learning experience. This ensures efficiency and scalability of such systems and increases productivity among teachers.
Solutions are, therefore, required that will provide specialist expertise and professional development for teachers working individually or as part of professional learning communities, to allow for on-going access to tailored self-learning resources on the E-library or other learning platforms.
In the E-library for Teachers project, COL brings on board free Massive Open Online Courses, (MOOCs) and short courses to support the ongoing growth and capacity building of teachers.
Among the resources to be accessed from the E-library are two AI-assisted self-learning courses: Cybersecurity Training for Teachers (CTT) and the Advanced Cybersecurity Training for Teachers (ACTT). In the last one year, COL developed and offered these two courses, each lasting four weeks, to about 7,000 participants from more than 89 countries. The courses were time-bound, cohort-based and mentored by experts in cybersecurity and digital learning.
Data drawn from the course surveys suggested that one-off training was inadequate in ensuring sustained support for the teachers, especially in light of the anticipated everyday cybersecurity challenges.
To be able to identify the opportunities for AI-assisted self-paced learning, an evidence-driven decision-making approach was used to mine data and experiences in the CTT and ACTT courses. Qualitative and quantitative data were analyzed to determine the teacher support needs that could potentially be resolved using AI. Below are some of the important considerations that emerged in integrating AI-assisted self-learning resources in an E-library or other learning platforms:
- Open educational resources: To support continuous learning and professional development during and beyond a particular cohort-based training course, it is important that teachers are able to access relevant OER.
- Awareness: The TPD provider should identify the difficulties learners might face in cohort-based technology-supported training, and isolate those that can potentially be resolved using AI. Efforts should be made to inform participants of the available intelligent features on the E-library or learning platform.
- Interaction: To ensure inclusive interaction, participants should be able to engage with the resource material regardless of their internet connectivity, device used, accessibility needs and language of instruction.
- Adaptive learning and assessment: While some participants may be new to a course, others would already possess some knowledge in the subject area. Therefore, the starting point in the course should be based on the present knowledge of the participant.
- On-demand personalized learning: Participants can access any course resource at any time for self-paced and learner-driven learning. This removes most of the barriers to learning as the requisite resources and support – interaction, OER, adaptive learning and assessment – are available to the learner.
- Learning analytics: The enrollment, progress, challenges, performance (of the learners and system) and outcomes (of the course and system) must be tracked. Enriched analytics directs the development and refinement of all the levels of needs of a teacher leading to better content, system and learning experience.
- Sustainability: Capacity building would be considered sustainable when training is attained at scale, while minimizing the cost of developing and facilitating courses. By leveraging open resources, the cost of developing learning content reduces. When fully automated, the hours facilitators spend supporting participants reduces considerably.
The integration of AI-assisted self-paced learning is critical in scaling professional development and lifelong learning among teachers. Sustainability in a platform such as an E-library or LMS is achieved when on-demand personalised learning is realised.
Dr Betty Ogange is the Education Specialist: Teacher Education at the Commonwealth of Learning, Canada. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Walter Buyu is a Cybersecurity Researcher at e.KRAAL Innovation Hub, Kenya. He can be reached at email@example.com