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AI at our core – a strategic and action plan for the implementation of AI at MCAST (Malta)

Joseph Falzon – [Lead Author] Senior Lecturer and Masters Programme Coordinator, Stephen J Hall - Senior Lecturer and Masters Programme Coordinator, Edwin Zammit – Deputy Director for Innovation and Alex Rizzo – Deputy Principal for Research and Innovation, The Malta College of Arts, Science & Technology (MCAST)
  • Case Study

An exponential growth of disrupting technologies are accelerating each other. Artificial Intelligence [AI] is ultimately going to transform every business, in every industry. Like any business transformation, if you want to get the most out of AI, it all starts with strategy.

Your AI strategy will help you to focus on your core objectives and prioritise ways that AI can help deliver pre-determined goals [Forbes, 2019]. Educational institutions, colleges and universities are all facing continuous challenges in their mission –preparing students for the future.

What is the purpose and relevance of education? Are we able to change the world for good? Perhaps these are the key questions that continually lead us to think how the learning environments can be transformed into hubs of innovation, where collaborative and interactive experiences bridge the gap to the fast-developing digital world of work, characterised by advances in Artificial Intelligence and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Applied Research and Innovation Centre within the Malta College of Arts Science and Technology (MCAST) spearheaded this task and launched the AI strategy for the years 2020 to 2025. The strategy is both inward and outward looking, focused on integrating AI into MCAST’s operations as a support component in the provision of Vocational Education and Training and provide AI solutions to education, industry and society. MCAST currently delivers programmes ranging from certificates to EQF Level 7 and on its pathway for providing doctoral programmes.

THREE GOALS AND NINE INITIATIVES

Established by the strategy, the first goal aims to prepare students for an industry that includes AI. The second goal aims to assist and manage students with the support of AI throughout their learning experience, and the third goal aims to support academic developments by applying AI in industry solutions.

AI shall be intrinsically embedded into MCAST’s daily operations as a support mechanism to achieve these goals. Industry will play a key role in transforming MCAST’s core business into an AI culture across all sectors of education and training. Nine diverse initiatives and associated deliverables that impact different aspects of the services provided by MCAST have been identified in order to achieve the three overarching goals. These AI initiatives are a game changer for MCAST and its key stakeholders.

The initiatives include AI-enabled enhanced e-learning environments intelligent tutoring systems, the development of AI-driven personalised learning applications, the introduction of AI as a core part of course curricula across all areas of study and the development of AI-specific courses, and professional development for academics in AI-related areas.

  1. Enhanced E-learning environments

Students assistance, using intelligent personal virtual co-bots, monitoring their individual activities and actions, supporting their performance and individual learning plans.

  1. Personalized Learning through Smart Content

AI-driven system, providing optimised smart content, that attunes to the students’ learning styles and levels.

  1. CPD in AI for Academics

Devising new methodologies and focusing on staff-training, encouraging effective use of emerging AI technologies in their teaching and delivery settings.

  1. Intelligent Tutoring Systems

AI based solutions, proposing suitable delivery methods for different topics, considering students’ individual needs.

  1. Simplification in Administration

Integration of AI within MCAST's core administrative functions to enhance its operation.

  1. SMART Campus Buildings

AI-based smart building automation controllers, focused on improved user comfort, safety and enhanced energy performance.

  1. Alignment of LO's to Job Profiles

identifying current and future trends in the job market and proposing appropriate knowledge, skills and competences to programme managers and programme content developers.

  1. Curriculum & AI Specific Programmes & Projects

Introducing AI as an integral part of curricula across all levels, to help the students appreciate how AI would impact their lives and provide them with understanding of its ethical implications.

  1. AI Collaboration with Industry

Through applied research and innovation in the field of AI, MCAST has the potential to provide a range of services and solutions to industry and society.

The first stage of deliverables is staggered over an implementation period of five years, up to 2025 while additional deliverables are recommended for post 2025.

FROM THE BOTTOM-UP

Crucial in achieving the goals of the strategic plan is to engage people, particularly MCAST management and academic staff, to understand the objectives of the roadmap and to fully commit on a continuous basis. For a successful implementation of this strategy, stakeholders are to be informed by clearly communicating the roadmap, thereby developing a sense of direction and focus.

By explaining why the destination is important, students and academics together with industry partners and policy makers are inspired and people develop the motivation and determination to see the race through. At the centre of the ongoing digital transformation, upskilling academics as human beings with unique capabilities helps them to collaborate with new technologies and embrace change.

ETHICAL SIDE OF AI

Education, workforce development programmes and public policy are aligned to produce an ecosystem that improves efficiency and productivity. Encompassing all this is the human-centric approach that are the founding principles of this strategy. Ethics and moral considerations of AI are increasingly gaining momentum in public discourse, public policy and decision making. A significant step forward in the human centric approach is the recently launched “Rome Call for AI Ethics” that brought IBM and Microsoft among the first signatories. The bold statement by Pope Francis joins the latest moral and ethical frontiers of science at par with stem cell research and genetic editing. The primary focus of the development of technology remain the good of humanity and the environment.

AI is bringing considerable changes in the lives of human beings. This will undoubtedly continue to persist with the rapid developments of digital transformation. Fully aware that the penetration of AI in education present concerns about ethics, security and human rights, this strategy is a catalyst for policy intervention at national level.  The commercial deployment of AI is also likely to exacerbate digital divides and deepen existing income and learning inequalities, as marginalized and disadvantaged groups are more likely to be excluded from AI-powered education (UNESCO, 2019).

National Vision for Artificial Intelligence published by the Government of Malta aims to ensure that benefits brought about by this next wave of innovation delivers benefits across all segments of Maltese society. The Government of Malta acknowledges MCAST in piloting the introduction of AI-specific components as part of post-graduate programmes in 2020 and AI-specific post-graduate programmes. AI is already a key part of its IT-related programmes.

NEXT STEPS

The world is heading towards major challenges in the development of AI. Though AI has been with us for six decades, recent years were characterised by big data and the near-endless amounts of information that undoubtedly transformed AI to unprecedented levels. The past three years were characterised by world leaders and international organisations developing their respective AI strategies.

As AI develops, higher are the threats of potential cyberattacks resulting from loss of money and loss of data to disruptions to infrastructure, together with loss of privacy to companies and to governments (World Economic Forum, 2020). Similarly, advancement of AI will enhance the digital divide and result in job displacements that remains a threat to certain strata of society. 

We look forward to participating with our peers of the European Edtech network and contribute towards the development of ideas, solutions, information and best practices in the field of EdTech. Noting the technological advancements of AI we call on national governments of member states of the European Union to promote and support AI initiatives and endeavours across all sectors of society.

In this context we believe that we will succeed only if this road map is implemented within the framework of three very important frameworks; mainly, the Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals, the development of AI Charter that will be setting guiding principles for a human centric AI development and thirdly the development of an outreach programme supported by concepts well-being in the digital age that help mitigate the adverse effects of digital technologies while allowing people to reap their benefits.

Our aim is to be proactive in embracing this major transformation in the leap for mankind.

The full “MCAST AI Strategy and Action Plan” is available for download here.