Navigating the Ethical Waters of AI in Education

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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At Macmillan Learning, our commitment to education and the transformative power of learning are at the forefront of our mission: "inspiring what’s possible for every learner." We understand that learning is an inherently human experience, and that technology can play an important role to support it. But with new technologies come new responsibilities and new questions we must ask ourselves; and in our journey to develop AI-driven educational tools, we’re aiming to establish thoughtful governance.

While AI can be incredibly helpful to both students and instructors, there are flaws in many AI tools that may negatively impact the learning journey. Given the potential challenges of AI-driven tools, we became determined to avoid perpetuating biases whenever possible, maintain high ethical standards to guide development of digital tools, and seek active guidance from experts.   

To navigate these ethical waters successfully, we sought guidance from experts with deep knowledge of both higher education and AI tools. Additionally, we wanted to ensure that the perspectives and experiences of our instructors and students were represented in the advisory process. This led to the creation of two advisory boards, the Macmillan Learning Ethics Advisory Board and the Data Privacy Board. Together, the boards help us to explore complex issues like ethical and equitable ways to ensure representation of the diverse groups we serve, effective mitigation of data privacy concerns, and improvements in how we could leverage AI to fortify our research practices.

Our Ethics Advisory Board

In my role leading our Learning Science and Insights team, I helped manage the ethics advisory board, which is composed of distinguished individuals who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. Each of the advisory board members were carefully selected for their deep understanding of AI and their direct interactions with students; they worked roles that range from Data Science and Data Activist to Professor of Learning Analytics.

The advisory board held two virtual sessions during the summer of 2023. In the first session, we presented the Macmillan Learning preliminary AI guidelines, which aimed to establish principles for the responsible development and use of AI in education. The board members provided valuable feedback, helping us refine our guidelines and develop a mission statement that would guide all our AI-related work. Our Mission: "We create research-driven opportunities through AI for educators to better support the diversity of students within their learning environments." We next worked together to create AI principles that will guide our product development.

Our AI Principles

Based on the feedback and insights gained from these sessions, the Macmillan Learning team is now diligently working on the development of new AI technologies. These technologies are designed to support our instructors and students in meaningful and equitable ways while adhering to the ethical principles established with the guidance of our advisory board. As refined with the advisory board's input, our principles are:

  • We are transparent, accountable, and ethical in how we use AI.
  • We keep people at the center of AI oversight and improvement.
  • We promote AI literacy and education on AI safety, ethics, and responsible use.
  • We strictly observe, monitor, and improve data privacy and security principles.
  • We continually monitor our AI tools and research to verify that we are not introducing unintended harms or exacerbating inequalities.
  • We continually learn from diverse groups of experts to improve AI safety and ethics. 

As we move forward, we remain committed to using AI as a tool to augment learning, while also retaining the humanity of learning and fostering meaningful and transferable educational experiences. AI can be a helpful companion on the path to learning, and we are determined to make that learning journey safe, reliable, effective, and unbiased for every learner. 

We recognize that our work isn't done. The landscape of AI is constantly evolving, and so we remain committed to updating our practices and policies to ensure our research and development practices are ethical and transparent.  By continuing to have conversations with our learners seeking expert guidance, and undertaking  collaborative explorations of AI's potential uses, we underscore the broader narrative - that the integration of AI into education must always be guided by ethical considerations and a deep commitment to keep learning at the heart of what we do at Macmillan Learning. Stay tuned as we continue to shape the future of AI in education.

Read more about Macmillan Learning’s AI journey, including Generative AI and Product Development: What We’ve Learned & What’s AheadThe Impact of AI on the Inherently Human Experience of Learning, and how we’re Readying our Workforce for an AI World.