Rivoluzione digitale, rinascimento digitale, intelligenza artificiale nell’educazione: la Scuola Italiana si stava preparando, molti i progetti, le sperimentazioni, le evoluzioni che il mondo dell’istruzione ha  messo in campo negli ultimi anni. Il banco di prova però è arrivato più in fretta del previsto e oggi non c’è più tempo.

We suddenly awaken in a school urgently called to renew itself and find all possible ways not to leave behind three million students and their families. The social concept of education systems in Italy has matured over the years, the needs of individuals in society and society itself have evolved; education today is both a way to guide students to meet the needs of society and a tool by which they can get the power to better meet their owns.

But school is also perceived in emotional terms as a crucial place to be inspired and fall in love with learning, an essential element in a world that requires ever more constant adaptation and to continue learning throughout one’s life. A process that is fundamental today for at least three reasons:

  • Economic, because updating skills and knowledge during the professional path allows both to constantly improve and to keep up with the needs of a rapidly changing world of work;

  • Civic, to have greater awareness of the socio-political context in which you live and find your way in the increasingly fragmented world of information;
  • Personal, because dedicating yourself to learning something new is a personal challenge, which allows us to grow and also relate in different ways to others.

What would have we done today without technology in schools?

We asked this question to Professor Gaia Elena Berto, who’s teaching Natural Sciences at a high school in Turin:

Today we are experiencing how much technology can help us in teaching and this historical moment is becoming a good test bench. During these days we (the teachers) have been preparing and done a quick online course to use a platform for making virtual meetings, which we will also use for classes, where it is possible to interact by having students write through shared whiteboards. From Monday we will teach in this way, planning student-teacher meetings at the scheduled lesson time, also marking absent students.

This technology can be downloaded on mobile phones, thus allowing those who do not have an internet connection at home to connect, since most students now have a smart phone. The teachers can also choose to send in-depth material via email, show videos and then evaluate the students.

This kind of system clearly needs a guide and the Headmaster  has asked to each teacher to outline the technological tools they intends to use, in line with the teaching programs. There is a lot of curiosity facing this new frontier of going to school and this is helping not to be discouraged.

What will we learn?

At the end of this emergency a new way of doing school will have been learned – says Prof. Berto and adds – This experience is calling us to redefine our days, to take time and re-organize ourselves. This aspect is certainly more complex in primary and secondary schools, but it is an additional positive element for developing skills such as a spirit of initiative and entrepreneurship, which school should support anyway.

The physical space where to exchange emotions and relationships will certainly be missed, but the message that the School is there, even if in a different way, is positive because still makes it feel like a place of active participation.

Considerations for the use of technology in schools

To be better prepared at a massive use of technology for education it is necessary to define the roles and the ways in which technology can effectively support teaching methods.

Generally speaking, the activities in which machines outsmart humans are:

    • Recurring / Predictive activities
    • Task demanding computational power
    • Data and input classification
    • Decision making based on rules

Instead, the activities in which humans outsmart machines are:

    • Experience real feelings and build significant connections with other people
    • Ask question and answer them on different levels of meaning
    • Decide how to use resources and develop strategic dimensions (including what tasks machines should perform and what data to provide them).

Once we have clarified these distinctions, being aware of both the potentialities and limitations of technologies, we must develop a new notion and define ethical standards concerning the use of technologies in school. This is a real delicate task, which requires the engagement of a wide spectrum of stakeholder – from students to philosophers, from teachers to politicians, from parents to developers.

People on the front line – such as teachers, scientist and education policymakers – are called to grasp the key issues of the era we are living in, for example data collection, property, storage and usage.

Moreover, we must understand if computational methods, as students’ assessment tests via tablet, still remains appropriate and unbiased tools for decision making.

For an ethics of education

As Wayne Holmes suggests in his book  “Artificial intelligence in education”  we must indeed develop a profound knowledge of the ethics of education, teaching and learning process (including methods, curricula, attention towards ranking and available funding for schools).

We must be prepared to respond to the effects caused by the intersection of data, calculations and educational practices because, despite everything, artificial intelligence will be increasingly used in the contexts of education.

We could leave all the decisions concerning AI in schools to technicians, engineers and the great tech companies or we could cooperate from the beginning, taking into account the results from the first e-classes, which in Italy will begin on Monday 9 March 2020.

The world of education is called upon to adopt a critical position, the result of the experiences we will live, to help ensure that the introduction of technology in education reaches its potential and has positive results for all. Good luck!