Mon. May 20th, 2024

Decoding the Impact of GenAI: Reflections from the AIDE Sri Lanka Conference

By Arteculate May 6, 2024 #AIDE #LEARN #Sponsored

In today’s rapidly evolving world, technology is shaping our lives in unprecedented ways. It’s crucial for educators to stay ahead of the curve and embrace new technologies, like Generative AI (GenAI), to equip students for the future. The recent AIDE Conference on AI in Education and Research, hosted by LEARN on March 15, 2024, showcased this imperative. It was organised as part of the AIDE project in partnership with the UNESCO Chair of the Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU). With over 150 participants from various sectors, including policymakers, educators, researchers, and students, the conference highlighted the profound impact of GenAI in academia. Against this backdrop of innovation, the AIDE Conference served as a hub of ideas, insights, and innovation. It provided a platform for its diverse group of participants to fully explore the benefits, challenges, and considerations of using GenAI. Here’s a glimpse into the thought-provoking ideas we witnessed at the AIDE Sri Lanka Conference. 

How Sri Lankan Educators are Using Generative AI

The first segment of the AIDE Sri Lanka Conference featured educators showcasing the potential of GenAI in education. Collectively, their insightful talks showcased how GenAI is used in a Sri Lankan academic context, framing its benefits and challenges in a manner relevant to local contexts. 

Opportunities and challenges of GenAI in education

The session opened with Dr. Asitha Bandaranayake, Consultant CTO of LEARN, highlighting the opportunities and challenges of GenAI in education. His talk underscored that Sri Lanka must reimagine its education sector by integrating cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence. Such technologies are heralding a 5th industrial revolution. With a skilled workforce, Sri Lanka can seize its valuable opportunities and transform into a developed nation. The use of GenAI in education offers a solution to long-standing challenges and paves the way for a more equitable and inclusive learning environment. Most notably, it allows educators to address the “Two Sigma Problem,” which underscores that students who receive one-on-one tutoring perform, on average, significantly better academically compared to students who learn in a traditional classroom setting. With GenAI enabling personalised and adaptive learning experiences, such challenges can be addressed to ensure students can achieve higher levels of academic success, irrespective of their initial proficiency levels.

A Sri Lankan educator’s experience with GenAI

Afterwards, Prof. Sakunthala Yatigammana Ekanayake from the University of Peradeniya emphasised the crucial role of GenAI in improving teaching and learning practices. Educators must not only grasp the subject matter but also define clear learning outcomes, select appropriate instructional methods, and ensure sustained student engagement. Prof. Ekanayake shared her proactive use of technology that helped deepen her understanding of lesson content and maintain student interest. She delved into the potential of GenAI tools to revolutionise teaching experiences, highlighting its time-saving benefits in lesson preparation and capacity to create dynamic learning environments. However, she also addressed challenges such as language barriers and limited access to devices. Despite these hurdles, Prof. Ekanayake remains optimistic about GenAI’s potential to drive innovation in education, recognizing its ability to captivate students and propel advancements in teaching methodologies.

The use of GenAI in medical education

The session also featured Dr. Thilanka Senevirathna from the University of Peradeniya who shared how GenAI is used in medical education. She opened by stating technology has always played a key role in medical education. Traditionally, medical students relied on official websites like those of the WHO or the UK’s NHS to answer specific questions. However, these websites couldn’t help medical students in answering scenario-based questions. But with the rise of GenAI platforms, this has changed. However, the latest research has shown GenAI responses show deficiencies in certain key medical subjects such as anatomy, and biochemistry. Hence, Dr. Senevirathna emphasised the need for human expertise to catch these deficiencies when using GenAI tools. She then closed her talk by sharing how the University of Peradeniya’s Department of Pharmacology was using GenAI for assessments of essay questions, identifying at-risk students, and also giving feedback to help at-risk students improve their results. 

GenAI for personalised guidance in Higher Education

Finally, it closed with Dr. Thushari Silva from the University of Moratuwa, whose talk spotlighted the potential of GenAI in personalising the higher education guidance process. She opened by explaining that while the university system offers several opportunities, many undergraduates are unaware of them and choose to follow traditional pathways such as engineering, medicine, law, etc. Hence, Dr. Silva and her team aimed to help undergraduates select the best degree programme. Aiming for a truly personalised solution, Dr. Silva shared that the biggest challenge was building a robust dataset with data from different demographics to ensure that any AI system could give effective recommendations. Having built this dataset with their understanding of the university system, Dr. Silva’s team developed a prototype AI system to give undergraduates course recommendations. All that’s required is for the student to enter their future aspirations, aptitude, and educational background and it’ll offer clear course recommendations based on their inputs.

How Sri Lankan Researchers are Using Generative AI

The subsequent session of the AIDE Sri Lanka conference featured speakers that showcased how GenAI is used to assist and accelerate research activities. Here, too, the speakers shared insightful presentations detailing how the technology is applicable in a local context.

The opportunities and challenges of GenAI in research

Prof. Roshan Ragel, Consultant CEO of LEARN, opened the session by detailing the broad spectrum of opportunities and challenges that GenAI presents in the realm of research. He highlighted its utility across all stages of the research process, from expediting literature reviews to generating synthetic data and even ideating research concepts. He went on to state, “Whether we accept it or reject it, the fact remains that students and academics are using GenAI tools.” Despite its transformative potential, accessibility of GenAI tools and training that encourages critical evaluation of their outputs remain significant hurdles, especially in developing nations like Sri Lanka. Prof. Ragel also emphasised the importance of addressing issues related to responsibility for AI-generated content, data privacy, and bias. He added the University of Peradeniya is developing guidelines for the ethical use of GenAI. While they’re still being discussed, the early foundations stress the need for judicious use of GenAI, verification of outputs, and ensuring human oversight for generated content to maintain accountability and ethical research standards.

GenAI as a supportive tool to unlock research opportunities

Subsequently, Prof. Janaka B. Ekanayake from the University of Peradeniya, shared how GenAI can assist in writing winning grant proposals to secure funding. The theme of his talk at the AIDE Sri Lanka Conference was that while GenAI is a powerful assistant, it cannot write a winning research proposal on its own. He then proceeded to share his experience with applying for research grants, highlighting that there’s stiff competition for the small handful of opportunities available. Hence, the need for a strong proposal that can be understood by anyone at all stages of applying for a research grant. Prof. Ekanayake went on to explain that such winning proposals are often the results of months of effort by teams of researchers hailing from different disciplines. “You can’t win a research grant on your own with an AI,” he added. Prof. Ekanayake reiterated that AI can help researchers refine their ideas, but the process of first identifying those ideas, and then putting them into a proposal must be done by human hands of a multidisciplinary team. 

Ethical considerations of using learning data with AI 

Afterwards, Dr. Dilrukshi Gamage from the University of Colombo addressed the ethical use of learning analytics powered by AI. She introduced learning analytics as a growing field focused on deriving insights from extensive student data to aid educators in decision-making. Emphasising the crucial role of accuracy in their predictions, Dr. Gamage highlighted that learning analytics researchers rely on specialised AI tools rather than general platforms like ChatGPT and Gemini. Illustrating the benefits of learning analytics, Dr. Gamage shared an example of how by understanding how students learn, it’s possible to create effective personalised learning content with GenAI. However, she cautioned against overreliance on AI due to inherent social biases that might be reflected in the data. While advocating for the benefits of GenAI, she underscored the importance of AI literacy among educators. Dr. Gamage urged educators to maintain critical scrutiny of AI outputs and called for greater transparency in the utilisation of GenAI tools. She concluded by emphasising the indispensable role of human judgement and contextual understanding in educational practices, as a necessity when embracing the advancements brought about by AI.

The use of GenAI in undergraduate research projects

Finally, Dr. Damayanthi Herath from the University of Peradeniya concluded the session with a detailed case study on undergraduate students using GenAI for their final-year research projects. She highlighted the university’s proactive stance on embracing AI, which was exemplified by the establishment of the Artificial Intelligence Forum for Academics. Subsequently, it permitted students in the Faculty of Engineering who were pursuing computer engineering specialisation to utilise GenAI for their final year projects. It began with collaborative discussions between students and lecturers exploring best practices and ethical considerations to ensure GenAI was used responsibly. Based on existing research, it was decided that GenAI could be used for tasks but only with human supervision, fostering critical assessment. Accordingly, course assessment methods were adjusted for 2-way communication between students and the evaluation panel. Following the conclusion of the course, a survey was conducted, and the results indicated that the students had largely positive perceptions of GenAI. Dr. Herath concluded by stating the University of Peradeniya’s commitment to GenAI as it continues to evaluate feedback from ongoing trials.  

Preparing Today’s Students for a GenAI Future

Dr. Romesh Ranawana, Group Chief Analytics & AI Officer at Dialog Axiata, delivered the keynote address at the AIDE Sri Lanka Conference, emphasising the transformative potential of Generative AI. Dr. Ranawana underscored how Generative AI is reshaping existing job roles, offering dynamic examples of its impact across industries. Throughout his talk, he focused on its role in education, sharing that educators can harness Generative AI to create personalised and dynamic content tailored to individual student needs. Moreover, Dr. Ranawana emphasised that as AI continues to redefine various sectors, educators will play a pivotal role in preparing students for the AI-driven future workforce. He stressed the importance of cultivating creative and social skills alongside technological literacy to enable students to collaborate with AI systems effectively. Ethical AI usage was another focal point, with Dr. Ranawana advocating for the integration of ethical considerations into educational curricula to ensure responsible AI adoption.

Furthermore, Dr. Ranawana addressed the challenges associated with effectively implementing Generative AI solutions. While prototyping AI solutions may seem feasible, scaling them up poses significant challenges due to the substantial costs involved. He emphasised the necessity of organisational commitment and collaboration among stakeholders to navigate the complexities of Generative AI implementation successfully. Dr. Ranawana highlighted the pivotal role of organisations like LEARN in facilitating this transformative journey, emphasising that collaboration across educational institutions and industries is essential for driving widespread AI adoption. In essence, Dr. Romesh Ranawana’s keynote speech served as a call to action for educators and organisations to embrace Generative AI responsibly and prepare students for an AI-driven future. By integrating ethical considerations, fostering creative skills, and promoting collaboration, educators can equip students with the tools and mindset necessary to thrive in an evolving technological landscape.

Building a Digital Economy

While unable to attend the event, Hon. Kanaka Herath, the State Minister of Technology of Sri Lanka, shared compelling comments at the AIDE Sri Lanka Conference, outlining the country’s vision for digital transformation and the pivotal role of AI in driving economic resurgence. Emphasising the transition to a digital economy, Minister Herath highlighted the immense potential digitalization holds for Sri Lanka, particularly in navigating through economic challenges. He stressed the significance of leveraging AI even with limited resources, positioning it as a catalyst to propel the nation into Industry 4.0 and beyond. 

Expressing gratitude towards LEARN and its efforts in capacity building and network infrastructure development, Minister Herath underscored the importance of collaboration between the government and industry stakeholders. He highlighted a comprehensive roadmap, developed in partnership with the World Bank, encompassing six key pillars, with infrastructure and capacity building at its core. Minister Herath outlined key initiatives undertaken by the government to lay the groundwork for AI adoption and cybersecurity preparedness. 

Minister Herath delineated crucial steps taken by the government, including the establishment of a high-level committee to develop an AI strategy and the drafting of legislation to address emerging AI-related challenges. He emphasised the importance of knowledge and skill development, announcing plans to establish AI hubs and enhance connectivity across the country. Minister Herath also highlighted ongoing efforts to promote cybersecurity awareness and the empowerment of women entrepreneurs through initiatives like Smart Women programs. Minister Herath concluded his remarks by inviting conference attendees to participate in the Digital Investment Summit in June 2024, emphasising the collaborative effort required to realise Sri Lanka’s digital vision.

Embracing AI and Charting Sri Lanka’s Digital Future

The AIDE Sri Lanka Conference also hosted the Finals of the Inter-University Debate on GenAI, where the team from the University of Colombo emerged as the victorious team

The AIDE Sri Lanka Conference illuminated the transformative power of GenAI and its profound implications for education. With keynote speeches from academics, educators, industry leaders, health professionals, and public officials, attendees gained valuable perspectives on harnessing AI’s potential for economic resurgence and societal advancement. From discussions on integrating AI into educational curricula to student debates on its ethical and practical implications, the conference served as a platform for robust dialogue and knowledge exchange. 

Moreover, the conference highlighted Sri Lanka’s ongoing efforts in AI adoption, with initiatives ranging from capacity building to cybersecurity preparedness. The commitment of organisations like LEARN and collaborative endeavours between the government and industry stakeholders underscored a collective determination to embrace AI-driven transformation. As the conference concluded, it left participants inspired and equipped with insights to navigate the evolving landscape of AI with confidence and foresight. Moving forward, Sri Lanka stands poised to leverage AI as a catalyst for innovation, inclusive growth, and sustainable development, marking a significant stride towards a digitally empowered future.

By Arteculate

Arteculate is your guide to the Asian tech industry. We give you unparalleled insights, accurate, local tech news, thoughtful features and sometimes scathing opinions on where things are headed. Stay tuned for the best of Asia!

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