Schools across the Trust discover uses of AI at conference

Held at UTC Oxfordshire, the theme of this year’s annual Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET) conference ALET Digital, was Empowering Education and Bridging the Digital Divide. This was an opportunity for staff to connect, to find out about some of the digital apps and tools available that can help in planning, presentations, administration and production, and to explore and learn about digital technologies in a safe space with colleagues.

These were the aims of a very different annual conference for ALET, which brought together staff from across all six schools and the central team on Monday 15 April for a day of discovery and networking.

Knowing the wide spectrum of knowledge, understanding and confidence in AI and digital technologies across the Trust, ALET Leadership Development Director Jo Halliday explained that the day was designed to provide sufficient flexibility that staff could explore at their own pace, depending on their interests, and that more experienced staff could take others under their wing.

A welcome from CEO Jo Harper followed, where she talked about the recent staff survey, which she said showed real ‘positivity and passion’ for their respective schools. She reminded all colleagues that ‘we are all ALET, performing different roles. The sum of our parts delivers what schools need to deliver to their communities.’ Additionally, Jo also reminded staff to acknowledge and recognise praise, wherever it comes from – to take a moment and let it land.

A team from Primary Goal – a company which trains staff in schools around digital technology – were introduced who, alongside TGS teacher Piran Fletcher, TBS teacher Anjali Dayton and UTC Oxfordshire teacher Ambreen Asif – ran interactive workshops, introducing staff to various digital technologies and tools – from CoPilot to ClassPoint, Canva to MS Loop and MS Project – that can enhance teaching, organisation and productivity.

It was a real pleasure to see all staff discover how many technologies are accessible to all, regardless of confidence and ability; an art teacher was stunned to see the output of asking the AI tool in Canva to create a 16 slide presentation on Pop Art!

The Senior Leadership Teams from each of the schools looked at something slightly different, as they were challenged to debate: ‘Are we as senior leaders standing in the way of staff being more effective in their role by taking a traditionalist view of the world?’ (Broad answer: ‘Yes…and no!’)

Alexander Fahie

The keynote speaker before lunch was introduced. Alexander Fahie is a writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. He is dedicated to reshaping the landscape of EdTech by empowering educators with AI tools designed to streamline their workflow in a safe and accessible way.

His speech – Navigating Tomorrow’s Classroom: AI and the Educator’s Role – compared the ever-building AI ‘wave’ to the agricultural and industrial revolutions; something that is going to reshape the way we live and work.

While acknowledging the ethical, moral and parity problem AI in education can bring, Alex told the room that technology should serve, not scare us, and that: “AI is just yet another tool,” and the “the best way to learn is to just play.”

After another opportunity to try out and explore digital tools in an informal setting, the day was rounded off nicely with long-serving staff awarded for their service. Congratulations to:

  • Georgina Craven, UTCR, 10 years
  • Roland Howard, TBS, 10 years
  • Joanne Duffin, TGS, 15 years
  • Nadine Bratton, TGS, 15 years
  • Tony Blinco, TGS 25 years
  • Jane Darling, TGS, 15 years
  • Andrew Jones, TGS, 10 years
  • Andjelka Baric, TGS, 10 years
  • Lisa Bennett, TBS, 20 years
  • Mandy Grace, TBS, 20 years
  • Yvonne Goodson, TBS, 20 years

Summing up, Jo Harper CEO ALET said: “As I said at the start of the conference, I was looking forward to trying something new and expecting my brain to be feeling tired by the end of the day, and that has certainly happened. I welcomed time to experiment and learn new time-saving technologies. I have made a promise to myself to find time each week to keep practising.

“Thank you to Jo Halliday for heading up the conference and bringing AI to the forefront of our minds.”

What did the staff think of the day – here are a few soundbites from the day.

Stephanie Mitchell, UTC Reading – “Michelle and I can see the benefits of MS Project massively when organising our employer engagement. It can even email us, telling us what needs doing each week – it just makes it much easier to run several projects at the same time.”

Tony Blinco, Theale Green School – “It was a really good day, nice to see everyone, and I do think we can use some of these tools in lesson planning.”

Kirsty Thomas, UTC Reading – “It was great to hear about the capabilities AI presents and a nice day of connecting with staff.”

Cherise Osolin, UTC Swindon – “Having looked at CoPilot it appears really useful, particularly if having to put something together when time is limited. I also found Canva to be an interesting tool, particularly for finding and embedding videos which, again can be time consuming.”

Piran Fletcher from Theale Green School, who ran an introduction to AI session workshop, gave an example, saying “I use ChatGPT to ask for 10 quiz questions, which it did give me, but some weren’t quite right. So I just asked for another 10 until it was correct. So teachers are not going to become extinct just yet – you do have to use your subject knowledge to work with the AI.”

Phil Hollindale and Graham Frogely from The Bicester School spent some time playing around with ChatGPT  – “It’s so useful in terms of lesson plans – but you have to know your subject really well to spot any mistakes,” was the verdict.

Jennie Thomson from UTC Reading went a step further – using ChatGPT to compose an actual letter to parents she could send out the next day. “I’m already using it,” she said!
Sam Knowlton – UTC Oxfordshire and Swindon – ‘’Today bridged the divide between tradition and innovation, providing synergy between timeless wisdom and cutting-edge technology. Now did I use AI to produce this?”

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