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Centre for Online and Distance Education

Education futures and AI


Written by
Alan Tait

Digital transformation of Higher and post-secondary education is now irreversible.

ICDE 2023

Overall more than 600 participants  gathered at the ICDE World conference  under the theme, “Joining Hands in Peace for the Futures of Education”,  held in San José, Costa Rica November 6-10 2023. and heard from 11 keynote speakers, participated in a wide range of parallel sessions, and were introduced to the warm hospitality and vibrant culture of Costa Rica.

The University of London Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) was represented in a session proposed by Dr Linda Amrane-Cooper, Director CODE and Professor Alan Tait, CODE Fellow, who reported on the 4 year Evaluation of online assessment in the University of London International Programmes, in conjunction with a workshop on the future of AI in assessment (although in the event Linda was unable to travel due to ill health). Participants in the workshop saw more opportunities than problems in AI in assessment in the future, and there was broad agreement that for both pragmatic and educational reasons Higher Education had to find ways to incorporate AI into learning, teaching and assessment, and indeed there was evidence of early work that this was happening.

Notable keynotes included  that by Martin Dougiamus, founder and CEO of Moodle. Amongst his concluding messages  he said that the AI revolution to come would be greater than the digital revolution of the last 30 years.  If he is right  that is a very sobering thought. He was supported by John O’Brien, CEO of Educause, who argued that the digital transformation of Higher and post-secondary education was now irreversible, but that AI would be further transformational.

CODE partner  the Open University of China was represented by its President Wang Qiming.   He set out an ambitious vision of digital transformation for the largest open university in the world, promoting equity, innovation, access and lifelong learning for all.  His statistics were bewildering e.g. 2.7 million OUC students and a further 250 million participants on 45000 MOOCs.  Facial recognition was used for 8.89 million examination candidates.

Other topics that I followed and which remain widely compelling included micro-credentials and their role in shorter courses of study that support skills and  employment; open educational resources and their capacity for reducing cost in online learning; issues of student wellbeing and mental health in the online study environment; the ICDE Quality Review service; a celebration of ICDE at 85 year anniversary; and the experience of mothers in doctoral work in our field. For those who want more detail you can follow the blog produced by Dr Tony Bates on each day of conference.

The Open University of Costa Rica (UNED) and ICDE are to be congratulated on pulling together a vibrant global meeting for academics and professionals in the field of open, distance, flexible and online learning, and thanks should go in particular to Maynor Barrientos of UNED and Torúnn Gjelsvik of ICDE and their respective teams for all their work.  The next ICDE World Conference will be held in Wellington, New Zealand November 23-24 2025.