Let Teachers SHINE winner 2024: Mark Robinson – Instant Feedback for Every Child

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With his new AI-assisted platform, Mark Robinson hopes to transform the teaching of physics so that thousands of students receive instant expert feedback of the kind often only found with private tutoring.

Mark, a teacher at Ark Burlington Danes Academy in London, has received £25,000 from Let Teachers SHINE to develop his project, Instant Feedback for Every Child.

Mark envisions a future where every student, regardless of background, receives personalised support that helps them achieve academic success. He hopes his project will also alleviate some of the pressure on teachers, allowing them to focus on the most important and rewarding parts of their job.

At the core of Mark’s project lies a comprehensive online platform designed to provide students with immediate feedback with the help of AI, revolutionising how they learn.

While initially targeting physics, he plans to eventually cover other subjects, including biology and chemistry.

Mark’s platform is made up of sets of research-informed questions sorted into exercises, much the same as in a conventional workbook.

Unlike a conventional book, it offers hints and feedback for every question answered incorrectly, enabling students to reattempt and get it right.

With a custom-built AI, the platform offers tailored feedback akin to that of a personal tutor, enhancing students’ understanding.

“It doesn’t give them the answer. It guides them through the thinking that they need to be able to answer the question,” explained Mark. “It will help them understand the question and help them think about the principles they should be considering. It’s the kind of feedback that a good tutor would give.”

Embedded into the platform is a mark scheme written by Mark alongside feedback for common errors. An AI uses this information to mark students’ answers.

It opens up the possibility of scoring full marks, boosting student confidence.

Mark explained: “Unlike with paper exercises where they generally just get one try of everything, with these exercises, students generally achieve 100%, with the right support. That’s one of the novel things about this – all students get to experience some success.”

When used in a classroom, teachers can track the progress of individual students and see which are struggling with which questions.

“The teacher can see everyone’s answers at the same time for a particular question, and they get the overview of the whole class and so the visibility is beyond anything possible with paper,” said Mark.

He believes the AI tool does not diminish the role of the teacher, but it does help them manage their workload.

“My experience in the classroom is that having this tool complete the repetitive tasks highlights the value that I add as a teacher, particularly when I am engaging with and encouraging active involvement from students.

“It enables teachers to spend more time on the relationship with the students, motivating them and tailoring explanations for each of them in a language that they understand.”

While initially targeting his specialist subject of physics, Mark envisions expanding the platform to cover other subjects, including biology and chemistry.

Before then, however, the new SHINE funding will enable him to partner with schools in the North of England, which will allow him to tailor the platform to meet the specific needs of teachers and students.

“The funding allows me to reach schools in the most need that don’t have much money,” said Mark.

It was the unfairness of the private tutoring system that persuaded the former tutor to move into teaching.

“However, I discovered that it is impossible as a teacher to provide the level of feedback that students need to reach their potential like it is with tutoring.

“For this reason, I built an AI to provide the expert, tailored feedback I would give.”

Since becoming a teacher, Mark has also witnessed first-hand the differences in opportunities available to students from different backgrounds.

“I’ve taught in the highest-attaining school in the country, at St Paul’s, and I’ve taught in schools with high levels of need. And the difference in provision is scary.

“I think it’s great that the kids at St Paul’s have got what they’ve got. What upsets me is that a lot of other kids don’t make that level of progress, even though they have the innate ability.

“They just aren’t being given the opportunity because there aren’t the resources available to them. That’s what motivates me.

“But if I didn’t have this grant, I’d be forced to focus on providing the tool to those schools that have money, which would be the opposite of what I was trying to achieve.

“This grant is 100% facilitating the development of this tool for those who most need it as opposed to making it a tuition tool or a tool for private schools.”

Over the next year, the platform’s content will be developed and adapted to suit the contexts of the schools that are trialling it. Secondly, the tool will be developed and improved, so it more effectively meets the needs of the teachers who are strapped for time. Thirdly, the training is being developed so that it’s as easy as possible for a teacher to come on board and use it effectively.

“When we’re going through these different schools, we’ll be improving each of those things,” Mark said.

“The support from SHINE is awesome. It means I can focus on building the educational resource and working on it rather than spending my time chasing sources of money.

“There are a lot of positive emotions associated with winning this award. I feel really pleased. I feel validated. I feel like there’s good in the world. I feel really motivated to make it happen.”

Mark says he has several aims from the project, for both teachers and students.

“I want teachers’ workload to be reduced to the point that they can live a good life as well as teach and they don’t have to choose between a career that’s their passion and being healthy.

“I want students to experience success and to feel like they understand physics and they understand science, rather than it just being this mystical thing that they can’t get.

“I feel it will be possible to make this tool available to everybody, so we have complete equality by raising everyone to the highest level of education so that nobody will be disadvantaged by not having money.”

Fiona Spellman, CEO of SHINE, said: “Rather than replacing excellent teachers, new technology used well can offer so many opportunities to support students and free up teacher time to do what they do best.

“We are very excited to be supporting Mark’s project and cannot wait to see the impact it will have on physics and science teaching across the North.”

Click here to read about this year’s other winners