Artificial Intelligence Presents Both Promise and Peril: A Learning Technologist Reflects…

by Chris O’Reilly, Learning Technologist, University of Sussex

We acknowledge the use of Firefly on 04/04/2024 to generate this graphic image of Spaghetti Junction.

Throughout my working life I have been passionate about creative learning: I’ve always sought innovative ways to engage with and develop educational content. I am myself a visual learner. Today, I find myself reflecting on an educational career spanning over four decades, starting as a media technician at the South Bank Polytechnic in London (does anyone remember Polytechnics?) My formal education unfolded through day-release programmes, eventually culminating in part-time study for my Master’s degree in Digital Media.

So, what have I learned?

During my career I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with some remarkable, inspirational individuals. Two such people are Sandra Sinfield and Tom Burns, who champion creative learning and emphasise the importance of writing as a process and not merely as an assessment tool — see Supporting Student Writing and Other Modes of Learning and Assessment: A Staff Guide. They have also advocated over the years for more creativity in assessment. This practice and methodology has profoundly influenced my approach to how I work and encouraged me to develop creative and pedagogically rich online learning materials throughout my career.

Having developed hundreds of standalone multimedia packages and courses over many years, I am reminded of one in particular: ‘Clued Up,’ an online resource designed to equip students with essential digital literacy skills. The introduction video, “Your Digital Identity,” which was created just over a decade ago, now feels like a relic from a different era; a reminder of how technology is not just continuously moving forward but that it is accelerating fast.

Technology is not just moving forward…
it is accelerating fast.

For many years in education we’ve grappled with the challenge of moving beyond traditional assessment methods. While attempts have been made to explore alternatives, and dare I say more creative approaches, the truth is that there has not been significant progress. With the continuous growth of the internet many people thought we had come to a fork in the road at various times and that taking the path of new technology might speed up these innovative solutions.

Sadly that has not seemed to be the case.

What lies ahead then? Is artificial intelligence (AI) an even bigger catalyst for creative learning and creative assessments than the internet? I am not going into the merits and ethics of AI here in this blog as this requires a huge area of contemplation and is a major subject on its own. But I am keen to understand the influences it may have. Here at Sussex, we encourage the use of Microsoft Copilot as our preferred AI tool. Using your University of Sussex credentials to log in to Copilot will mean that what goes in and what comes out is not saved or shared and your data is not used outside of our organisation. Simply put, Copilot is ‘Protected’, you can find out more about Copilot by accessing our Educational Enhancement webpages.

Is A.I. a bigger catalyst for
creative learning and creative assessments
than the Internet?

There are interesting approaches already adopting AI into teaching practice such as the concept of ‘students as teachers and AI as the student’. This 101 creative ideas to use AI in education has numerous concepts presenting a diverse array of ideas on the potential uses of AI in education. And of course there is a boom of talks, discussions, conferences, blogs, and YouTube videos about what’s to come and how we can approach AI in our teaching. However, I am reminded that back in the 1970s, television news buzzed with excitement about a newly opened road junction: Spaghetti Junction. It was England’s most bewildering motorway interchange of its day and motorists approached it with trepidation, fearing they might emerge at an unintended exit.

Similarly, the emergence of AI presents both promise and peril. Some of our students, like speeding vehicles, may hurtle into AI without fully comprehending its intricacies. They risk emerging from this journey unprepared and disoriented. Can we as educationalists facilitate a smooth transition for our students and enable them to emerge having experienced a creative and deeper knowledge of learning?

As a learning technologist within Educational Enhancement I support the Business School and am currently involved with the ‘Festival of Sust(AI)nable Education’ conference, which is being hosted in the Jubilee Building on the 8th of May. This is a unique opportunity for faculty to shape the future of education at the University of Sussex Business School. This groundbreaking event will explore the intersection of sustainability, artificial intelligence and the future of education. There are several key influential guest speakers lined up for the conference including Sophia, the first robot citizen of the world. She will grace our virtual stage via a video link and will respond to questions from the audience.  

In anticipation of the festival, we’re launching “6 Days of AI”: an online initiative designed for academic participants to explore a variety of AI tools. The course is self-directed and each of the six days will introduce a new task. Every day, there will be comprehensive information about AI along with a platform where staff can provide comments and share their experiences of using it. We hope this leads nicely into the start of the festival and prepares attendees to be more familiar with the various concepts of AI.

So, amidst the buzz and uncertainty surrounding AI, as educationalists I feel we are in the perfect position to steer and guide our students in the right direction, into Spaghetti Junction and out the other side, helping them take the appropriate exit. This journey has the potential for educational enrichment and could help forge a path toward producing a more creative transformation of learning experiences for our students. However, we must remember that sometimes getting lost or confounded and finding your own way out can be a learning experience of the highest order. Getting the balance, it seems, and having the acquired knowledge that we need to deliver this support and provision might well be our steps to a journey of learning that we did not think we would have to take.

Posted in AI, Educational Enhancement, Learning Technologies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


About our blog

We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.