Originally posted here.

One of the biggest challenges we face in further education is the yearly English and maths exam resit period, a vitally important time for students. I know this myself, having personally sat the exam five times.

But it is also often a stressful time for staff. Colleges often only have a few teachers responsible for ensuring that pass rates stay high and five years’ worth of learning fits into just eight months.

I now work at Basingstoke College of Technology as a learning technologist, working with staff and students to enhance teaching and learning with the use of technology. At BCoT this year alone, we have welcomed 1,655 students through our doors, including part-time and full-time students and apprentices, all eager to pass their GCSE and Functional Skills exams. With only six full-time maths teachers and five full-time English teachers, the challenge begins before they even walk into the classroom.

As a teacher, you only want what is best for your learners. You aim to abide by each learner’s preferences, ensure your resources are differentiated and engaging, and aim to keep it personalised, offering one-to-one support as much as you possibly can. However, for colleges everywhere, that is almost impossible.

As part of the digital team, and a resitter myself, I have made it my mission to ensure that it never reaches impossible. From working alongside the maths team, and my own teacher, it became important to me that everyone received the same support and personalised learning that my teacher gave me. Starting off slow with self-marking quizzes (our first encounter with machine learning), we created a website, used by students across our college and others, and created in-house video tutorials that gave step-by-step instructions on how to complete real-life exam questions.

It took a remarkably small amount of time for our students to embrace using artificial intelligence to improve the way they learned.

We saved time. It might have been a few minutes in a lesson, but it provided more time for one-to-one support. However, it was not enough, so we explored what technology options were available to us. As a college founded on digital principles, we decided to take a bold step and try a technology approach outside what schools often choose – interactive websites, cloud infrastructure and learning platforms. We knew we had to go bigger and so began to explore how we might harness the power of artificial intelligence to help our students.

We implemented AI from September last year. Three staff training sessions and one student introduction later, we were up and running in no time. Despite our teachers’ worries about the use of technology to such a large extent in lessons that are traditionally paper-based, the platform was picked up quickly and once the teachers got it, the students got it.

It took a remarkably small amount of time for our students to embrace using artificial intelligence to improve the way they learned.

Our students love personalisation. They are very competitive and are quick to get things done to the best of their abilities. Having their progress stored – almost like an auto-save in a game, to which they are able to come back to at any time – is incredibly beneficial. To have it stored in such a user-friendly way, where students can see exactly what they need to work on and where they are in terms of skill sets, is not only helpful to students themselves but also gives our teachers opportunity to provide one-to-one sessions and extra support within the classroom. Our teachers know that students who are resitting have such a vast range of knowledge that it is not easy to teach specifically for each student, but with the help of AI, students can learn and revise and receive support from their teacher saving time and saving paper.

The evidence for this approach working for us speaks for itself. Our November resits showed a powerful increase in pass rates for the English and maths exams, based on our 2017 and 2018 grades. Our 2018 pass rates showed a 21% increase for GCSE maths learners and a 9% increase for GCSE English.

Resits will always be an integral part of further education and we will always have to help bring students quickly up to speed, including many who may be demotivated after recently having failed their exams. But colleges should be comfortable turning to technology for help, especially that which is proven to help improve results. If you read this and want to know more about our experience, please do get in touch.