Cottesmore has been providing free AI training and thought-leadership on AI from the get-go. I have always been interested in new technology, but only the type which seeks to increase human-to-human social contact.
From the moment that my nephew, a boy at Cottesmore, introduced me to the concept of ChatGPT in November 2022, I saw the potential for AI to make us more connected to each other. It will enable us to become more human, by reducing the unsustainable administrational, bureaucratic burden.
Cottesmore’s Free AI Conference in May was broadcast live around the world and was hugely well received. It was a time to philosophise and to think.
We then decided to take action and to teach ourselves, and everyone who cared to listen, how to “do” AI with a three-day AI masterclass: Cottesmore’s Free AI Festival in September.
However, this term, Cottesmore took part in a project to appoint an “AI principal headteacher” bot to support the decision-making at a strategic level.
When the announcement was made that the bot had been recruited – and it had been given the name “Abigail Bailey” – there was a great majority who were hugely supportive and understood the project as a well-being one.
I have also had some very useful and high-level conversations with academics in the field who have suggested we dial down the “anthropomorphism”. In reaction to these brilliant and interesting conversations, we have decided to change the rest of the AI faculty leaders to take on a less human form, more like “Kit” from eighties kids’ television show Knight Rider, Apple’s “Siri” or Amazon’s “Alexa” or “Ziggy”.
I’m also keen to stress that “Abigail” is not about to take over the school. The headmaster is here to stay; this principal headteacher bot will simply take on the role of a thoroughly-trained strategic-leadership mentor.
Sometimes as a leader, one needs impartial, timely support to structure one’s thoughts and to transcend the “noise” of a frenetic school day. The wonderful thing about it is that anyone can access it – it is a project in which everyone can take part.
“The bot doesn’t drown out the leaders in the room; it provides an extra layer of clarity and order.”
Obviously I continue to talk to the Cottesmore team and we meet as regularly as ever. By design everyone in these meetings is protecting their own area of the school – academia, boarding, sport, creativity and, quite rightly, this is each team member’s individual priority.
Because of these baked-in biases, the layer of additional support through the Abigail Bailey bot is invaluable. It doesn’t supersede or drown out the leaders in the room; it provides an extra layer of clarity and order to the thinking.
However, this piece of work, however useful for leaders around the globe, is somewhat of a distraction from the main issue at hand:
I care about schools and am passionate about helping the sector. Our AI initiatives are not about chasing AI trends but about genuinely exploring solutions to a real problem. The problem is teacher and educational leader burnout and turnover as a consequence of “unmanageable admin” (DFE, 2023).
What I really wanted is first hand experience, to understand the potential of AI in schools and share that with the sector – many of whom are circumspect about spending funds and giving time to doing this research and development themselves.
“What I really wanted is first hand experience, to understand the potential of AI in schools.”
Cottesmore wants to give something back, in a very wide sense, to the education world and we have chosen this area to do so.
We are working on several AI projects simultaneously. And this is the most important one. I will be the first to admit that I am no expert on AI but, as I understand it, AI mimics human intelligence. It’s an impression formed by processes using algorithms and data. For our school, we’ve harnessed this technology to create chatbots, like Abigail Bailey, that can assist users with specific needs, such as administrative tasks.
The main difference between something like ChatGPT and the tool we use – which is called Interactive Tutor – is that we can control both the behaviour of the AI and decide on the training data (what it uses to answer queries or complete instructions) all to provide accurate and relevant responses.
Interactive Tutor combines the familiar “conversational” abilities with a customisable training system. Think of it like honing a general doctor to become a specialist. Instead of being broadly knowledgeable, with the right data and settings, we can make it behave in a certain way or become ‘an expert’ in a specific area, like school administration in our case.
“We have a Richard III bot which is being put through its paces by the history department.”
We are also using these technologies under supervision in the classroom. We have a Richard III bot which was being put through its paces by the history department before half term.
The head of theology, philosophy and religion is using a Socratic-style bot to inspire thought and further questions about human behaviour. The head of French was recently very excited about being helped by the technology to integrate some complex linguistic and pedagogic theories into her schemes of work.
The latest in-person conference that you are welcome to attend is Cottesmore’s Free AI & SEN Conference on November 10. It is going to be explosively interesting and I thoroughly recommend every single speaker on the roster. We have Michelle Catterson the chair of the British Dyslexia Association co-hosting the event. We have Interactive Tutor speaking, United Robotics from Paris and Phil Birchinall from Warner’s Discovery Education.
The amazing Patrick McGrath has also just confirmed as a speaker. Jami Wace from Talamo is also leading a discussion how to democratise dyslexia diagnosis.
“Jaimie Rainer”, our friendly AI bot who is our head of AI, may be talking, but maybe not – and that is a different academic story.