At Bromcom, we’re working to introduce an Artificial Intelligence facility into our Schools MIS (Management Information System) … and, as a former teacher and MIS manager, I can’t help but wonder what it could be used for.

I’m older than I look… when I started teaching, we wrote a slash or a circle on a register and sent it to the office.  I remember our Deputy, Geoff Broughton, becoming a hermit as he literally constructed the timetable on a huge pegboard.

I witnessed technology working its way into schools – we marked registers on OMR sheets (Optical Mark Reader)… and sent those to the office to be ironed and then scanned.  I remember seeing Bromcom’s first handheld register device in the early nineties and thinking, “we’ll never have enough sockets to plug those all in!”

It seemed obvious to put a PC in every classroom, then a projector… and then to move the school MIS into (onto?) the cloud, if only to make sure PE teachers could take their class registers!  And these days, we can even leave it to the MIS to automatically set a detention for a pupil who is late – and notify their parent.

Here we are again, possibly on the verge of another paradigm shift in school information management.  The past few weeks have seen an explosion in news stories about Artificial Intelligence, since Chat-GPT and Bard charged onto the scene, raising clouds of educational, political and educational conundra in their wake.

At Bromcom we thought, “if there’s a new techology that could help schools, we want in on it” and have already developed a ‘rudimentary’ intelligence that can answer questions such as, “how many of my staff are near to retirement age?” and “who are my best teachers?”  (It gave a list, but chose not to share its criteria!)  Of course, it can also do the more generic ‘search engine’ type tasks, such as tell you the main stages of producing a school timetable or drafting an email about the importance of punctuality.

And it’s still so young!  It has so much potential and, although at the moment it’s an interesting toy, we’re all here thinking: where will this go?  How will it make the lives of educators easier?

I see Chat-GPT has just been banned in Italy – not over fears over its willingness to, shall we say ‘improvise’, but over the legality of access to the massive data set it has been trained on.  Does it really have the right to access and use all that it does?

Bromcom AI looks at data both outwardly and inwardly – even to answer the staff retirement question, it had to look at the age of staff on the MIS as well as looking up the retirement age in the country.  Of course, we’re not going to allow external AIs to look into data in our schools’ MISs, but we do need to be mindful that not everything it might find out on the net will be appropriate, relevant or even true.

Caveats in place, I have started wondering what the benefits of an MIS AI could be, when it does come of age?  We won’t want it to play chess or write sonnets for us, but what sorts of questions or tasks might we set it?

There will be no need to ask simple questions, such as:

“Which pupils were late today?”

So, could the AI answer trickier questions, such as:

“Which child most likely set off the fire alarm, just now?”

“Who should we give the maths prize to, this year?”

The point of an AI is more than just to save us time by carrying out tasks, but also to save us time by working out how to carry out those tasks, too…

“Which Year 10 classes most need intervention support?”

“Plan the homework timetable for years 7 to 11.”

How about: “Where should I prioritise support for different areas within the schools in our MAT?”

I’d honestly have loved an AI to mark my pupils’ work for me – and then produce a summary of the class’s weak areas (and then a lesson plan to address those, of course).  And I’m sure it won’t be long before teachers start using AIs to analyse homework essays to see which ones were most likely generated by AIs!

I would be genuinely interested to hear what tasks you would like an MIS AI to be able to take over from you, so please do share your ideas with me.

We want Bromcom AI to be a valuable co-worker and not just an entertaining diversion.  It’s definitely going to take some training, and probably more than a little trial and error to get there.

But I can’t wait to see how it grows up!