GenAI technology: Supporting personalised learning and improving equity in education

At the heart of education, we all share one hope: to simply be able to give every student what they personally need so they can learn to the best of their ability. But it’s not always an easy task.

The challenge is a familiar one: nationwide, teachers grapple with educational inequality – be it socio-economical, geographical, or resource availability, along with the many other complexities they face in the classroom. However, the rapidly evolving AI era brings with it solutions to assist with these challenges.

Enter Generative AI. The future looks promising with the emergence of GenAI technology set to help teachers bridge the gap. We’re talking about purposefully designed AI-powered tools – ones that support teachers, not replace them. In fact, it gives teachers the opportunity to make learning more accessible for their students than ever before.

According to Head of Jacaranda, Shirly Griffith, ‘GenAI classroom tools will profoundly level the playing field. It offers equal access to personalised support that enhances the teacher-led learning. When done well, this is how we can use AI for good.’

Jacaranda’s JacTutor: A personalised tutor for every student

Jacaranda’s resource development team has been working to deliver an effective way for schools to branch into GenAI, all while keeping inside the established bounds of the curriculum. This exciting project has produced JacTutor – a new tool set to provide students and teachers with a safe, interactive, and responsive tutor integrated directly into their classroom resource.

Shirly Griffith, who also spent 18 years teaching Mathematics in the classroom, invites us to imagine a world where a reliable GenAI tool is at the fingertips of every student. ‘They’ll be able to get the help they need, precisely when they need it. It’s a game changer – for teachers, for students, and for educational resource designers,’ says Griffith.

Image credit: Jacaranda

Just imagine the benefits for students both inside and outside the classroom – especially during self-study or home revision. Like having a friendly chat with a teacher when stumped by a problem, a student can ask JacTutor a series of questions to point them in the right direction. This technology will truly extend a teacher’s reach, giving students 24/7 access to support.

GenAI offers the potential to improve equity in education

When parents see their child falling behind, they often turn to private tutoring. But the reality is, tutoring is costly and simply not an option for most families. When access to resources is tied to financial means, that’s when kids miss out. What if every student could access their own personalised tutor? Schools can help bridge the gap simply by using the right resources. The potential for all kids to thrive is now within reach.

With technology like JacTutor, personalised help can now be part of every student’s journey – and it’s not just for students who are struggling. Soon students will have access to this interactive tool when they want to push themselves further and extend their understanding. This truly fosters equity.

How does GenAI work? The power of prompt engineering

A question on most teachers’ minds is, will GenAI let students jump straight to the answers and skip all the learning in between? No one wants AI to replace real learning or weaken students’ problem-solving skills. So, how do we create a tool that gives structured guidance, not just the answers? Jacaranda’s educational software designers have harnessed AI technology to build JacTutor using carefully designed prompts.

In simple terms, prompt engineering is the process of creating a set of instructions for a GenAI tool to follow. GenAI is short for Generative AI, and it does just that: generates a response based on whatever question or prompt is put in, drawing on intelligence it has acquired from sources. We can use prompt engineering to formulate a string of multiple prompts to effectively produce a desired result.

The brilliance of JacTutor is that the sophisticated prompt engineering tells it how to respond to students within the educational context of a question, lesson, and curriculum. When setting the rules, the software engineers define what type of information is given to the student, how the information is worded so the student can understand it, and what pace the information is delivered, steering students in the right direction without giving them the answer.

A purpose-built GenAI tutor like JacTutor offers relevant and accurate guidance. To give you an idea of why this is important, let’s explore an example for Mathematics. There are many methods of learning Mathematics. A generic AI tool might draw on many sources, not necessarily from Australia, and use different methods each time. These methods might be different from how students have been taught that concept in the classroom, causing more confusion than clarity.

The ‘guardrails’ for relevant and accurate guidance

Behind the scenes, Jacaranda’s Director of Software Engineering, Claire Lord, reflects on the technical work that goes into a product as innovative as JacTutor. Lord explains, ‘Prompts act as guardrails. Multiple layers of these guardrails guide JacTutor to facilitate best practice learning. Prompt engineering instructs JacTutor how to interact with students and how to facilitate learning that is aligned to the Australian-specific curricula. We are simulating a prescribed educational context that suits the classroom.’

So just like a real-life tutor, JacTutor is guided by curriculum and theory, as well as a student’s age and learning stage. Conversational-style guidance aims to mirror what a teacher or tutor might do or say when a student is stuck.

GenAI is a tool for differentiated learning

The beauty of this technology is the opportunities it presents for personalised learning. Students receive guidance specific to what stage they’re at when solving a problem. This means students stuck at the very start of a problem can get help understanding what the question is asking them. Whereas students who have gotten a bit further and are stuck part-way through the problem can get some ‘next step’ advice.

Claire Lord reflects on the opportunities for educators, ‘JacTutor is going to support teachers in applying differentiated learning in and beyond their classrooms. Teachers continue to be in control of the learning environment, while supporting their students’ differing abilities and empowering students to progress at their pace.’

How students will benefit from JacTutor

  • A personal tutor for every student: Personalised learning is arguably the most crucial benefit of GenAI for teachers wanting to tailor a students’ learning to their individual needs. Now every student can get the help they need, when they need it. JacTutor uses GenAI to create a fair and level playing field for all students.
  • Guidance, not answers: We don’t want students to skip the learning! JacTutor doesn’t give the answer away, but rather prompts students to consider what they should be asking to work out the correct answer.
  • 24/7 feedback and support: When JacTutor delivers immediate suggestions and guidance, students are empowered to continue progressing in real-time.
  • Combat anxiety: Especially in Mathematics, students can be afraid to raise a hand or ask more questions. With JacTutor, students will feel comfortable to ask questions, get clarification and try again.
  • Consistency over confusion: There are so many ways to learn Maths! To avoid confusion, JacTutor is built on the same trusted method used in Maths Quest.
  • Enhanced engagement: In today’s classrooms, students are naturally drawn to interactive features and adaptive learning technologies. Let’s harness this.
  • A safe space: To keep students safe, any concerning or inappropriate comments are automatically flagged and sent to their teachers.

It’s an exciting road ahead, for both teachers and resource developers. The team at Jacaranda are helping create guardrails for safe and effective classroom use, so together we can unlock the full potential of GenAI in education.

JacTutor will be available for select Jacaranda Mathematics resources very soon, and other subjects to follow in the near future.