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How to adopt genAI while minimising risk

11 June 2024

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the world at pace – and education is no exception.

While it may seem that tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT have been around forever, it has only been around eighteen months since conversations around generative artificial intelligence (genAI) really took off.

Today, many senior leaders are taking positive steps to embed genAI across their institutions to reduce admin, enhance curriculum, improve the learner experience and deliver the skills needed for learners to succeed in an AI enabled workforce.

There have, and continues to be, challenges with using genAI in education. Concerns around equity, bias and accessibility were identified as key issues for learners in Jisc’s latest student perceptions of generative AI report, highlighting a maturing expectation for institutions to prioritise responsible use and fair access to genAI.

As genAI’s impact on the workplace and society in general continues to accelerate, it’s increasingly clear that the choice is no longer whether to use it, but when, and, more importantly, how.

Actively assessing an institution’s position and appetite for creating, embedding and operating genAI technologies will enable education leaders to foresee potential red flags, overcome challenges, and access the most suitable resources for their activities.

Measuring AI maturity

There are many factors that can impact genAI adoption in education including staff and learner AI literacy and skills, available guidance for responsible use and access to the right tools, all of which determine how and when an institution can use genAI effectively in teaching and learning.

One of the first things the AI team at Jisc developed to support members was our AI maturity model.

Launched in March 2021, it proved useful, but there have been significant advances in the world of AI since then. When Jisc first launched the maturity model, the use of AI for most tasks involved purchasing a specific AI tool.

GenAI has changed that.

Now, much of the tech we use every day already has AI built in. In many cases it is now much more about staff skills than IT system procurement. Jisc’s maturity model has evolved and adapted in much the same way as the technology to ensure current issues and new developments are addressed.

The AI maturity model focusses on five key stages of genAI adoption: approaching and understanding, experimenting and exploring, operational, embedded and optimised/ transformed. It was designed to help frame conversations and identify the challenges and opportunities of emerging technologies.

Jisc AI maturity model for education

Most institutions are at the ‘experimenting and exploring’ phase of implementing genAI and are looking to move towards operational use. This is the perfect time to start developing responsible processes and guidance on how users should interact with the technology at a given institution.

Principles for the responsible use of AI in FE

Earlier this year, Jisc, in partnership with the Association of Colleges (AoC) technology reference group, developed six principles for the use of AI in further education (FE).

The principles, centred around fair and responsible use of genAI, support learners in developing the genAI skills they need to thrive, while promoting equality of opportunity.

While these shared principles are designed to form a framework which can be applied across the UK FE sector, they also provide a basis for identifying more specific ways in which individual colleges can use genAI tools to benefit their own staff and learners.

A whole institution approach

For institutions moving towards the ‘operational’ stage of AI maturity, three levels are crucial: principles, policy, and guidance.

Principles provide a responsible and ethical foundation, outlining core values and setting the vision. Policies translate these principles into specific, actionable rules, ensuring compliance and proper use of genAI. Guidance offers detailed, practical advice for daily application, helping staff implement policies effectively.

This structured approach ensures responsible, efficient genAI integration aligned with institutional goals.

By also involving staff and learners in the operational process, and by adopting a whole institution approach to developing an AI operational plan, diverse needs and perspectives will be addressed which will help foster an environment of collaborative learning and adaptation.

As generative AI continues to impact education, and our everyday lives, it is essential for senior leaders to prioritise the responsible adoption of AI to support learners in their future careers.

But adopting genAI technologies without understanding your organisation’s maturity can lead to pitfalls on an increasing scale.

By using Jisc’s AI maturity model institutions can better understand where they are, where they want to get to, and what sort of activities they might need to undertake to progress towards effective genAI adoption whilst minimising risk and prioritising fair use.

Michael Webb is the Director of Technology and Analytics at Jisc. He is speaking at the AoC Artificial Intelligence in Further Education Conference 2024.