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How AI is transforming computing and tech-focused skills education in B.C.

Computing educators will have to adapt their curricula to address workforce needs in a world with AI
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Some basic coding tasks can now be easily done with AI tools

The development and adaptation of artificial intelligence has created challenges for tech educators as they explore ways to prepare their students to adapt to a fast-changing industry.

The development and adaptation of artificial intelligence has created challenges for tech educators as they explore ways to prepare their students to adapt to a fast-changing industry.

Educators from local B.C. institutions say they have integrated AI in the courses they are teaching and have made updates to the way they interact with their students, but there is no course that can teach everything about AI given how quickly it is advancing.

“We are working through it and changing what we do.… Now we’re going to use certain courses that have a lot of flexibility in what we can teach them around using AI tools to help a software engineer,” says Aaron Hunter, director for the Centre for Cybersecurity at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).

Last year, the institute had a five-week project to have students solve particular problems in a creative way using available AI tools. BCIT has also added AI components to their programs to teach students about fundamentals of AI, machine learning and predictive analytics, which have been popular.

“Then broadly, our other electives are just being impacted more and more by it. Both things are teaching the students how to write AI, as opposed to teaching the students how to use AI for their other topics,” says Hunter.

Lighthouse Labs, a Vancouver-based coding education organization, has also integrated AI education into their existing programs.

“AI’s going to put every school on its toes in terms of keeping up with what is changing in the job market,” says Jeremy Shaki, CEO of Lighthouse Labs.

“As we looked at AI within Lighthouse, we absolutely had to integrate the proper LLMs [large language models] into the workflow of our students. We had to make sure that we’re teaching them how to use AI tools proficiently and showing them instances of where they are using AI that’s not working, ... making sure that we’re introducing resources for students to keep up with all the changes.”

Curriculum can’t keep up with changes in AI

Although both BCIT and Lighthouse Labs have added AI to their existing courses, they haven’t made fundamental changes to their curriculum or offered an AI-specific course, due to how fast the technology and the industry around it is involving.

“Fundamentally, as of this moment, we still need software engineers who know the whole subject. We haven’t gotten to the point where the knowledge we embedded is unnecessary, but we are preparing, because we know some of that will become unnecessary,” Hunter says.

Shaki also says the speed of change in AI is much faster than any curriculum can keep up with, so it’s more important to help students develop a good foundational understanding of how to use it properly instead of teaching them specific AI tools.

“People can be really good at one tool and then all of a sudden, those tools are going to change because they’re changing so rapidly,” says Shaki.

“They need to be very curious and interested learners,” he adds. “There’s still a lot of room for growth on this side. For any professional right now, this stuff is changing too quick.”

Hunter says AI has been a major disruption for computing education as some of the basic coding tasks he used to ask students to do can now be easily done by AI tools.

“It changes the way we have to teach. We have to focus on having the students explain, for example, how their code works, and we have to get them to engage with us in a way so that they can show us not just that they can hand in the work, but they understand what it does,” he says.

Shaki says he believes AI will not replace tech workers but put in more emphasis on their capabilities to use AI properly and explain to their clients how it works.

“I think that we’re still going to want people who are strong in terms of their knowledge of how software works, even if they’re not necessarily people who are going to be writing code from scratch,” Shaki says.

“The communication aspect is just going to be increasingly important. A big part of software development may end up being explaining how software works and why it makes the decisions.” 

dxiong@biv.com