While many schools have sought to ban generative AI, Wesley College in Melbourne has embraced the technology, creating its own AI assistant and embedding it in the school's LMS.
Their reasoning is simple, others might be suspicious of AI, but Wesley has realised that the technology is becoming an essential tool that students will use in their later lives so a solid grounding in AI will be an advantage. It’s also a conduit to deeper learning and research.
The in-house built AI tool Wesmigo, a portmanteau of ‘Wesley’ and ‘Amigo’, is becoming a part of how students learn at the school, initially with younger students, but it is soon to be rolled out to more senior age groups.
Cameron Paterson, Wesley College’s Director of Learning says they are committed to embracing new technologies and opportunities to enhance learning experiences in a scaffolded and age-appropriate way.
“Just as previous generations learned to work with different tools, the next generation will learn to work with AI and robots,” he says.
“After hearing Sam Altman (creator of Chat GPT) speak in Melbourne, I asked our Digital Learning and Practice team how we might ensure that each student has a personal AI coach. David Howard, Andrew Del Mastro and Ray Nashar, from our Digital Learning and Practice team, ran with the challenge, seeing the potential for AI to assist and support student learning. The aim was to support student capability in their learning tasks, while also developing their skill and confidence in using and getting the most out of AI.
“Within a few months, the Digital Learning and Practice team researched and developed a way to provide a chatbot service to our students within a walled environment, which we’ve called ‘Wesmigo’ - a friendly (amigo) AI coach. It is connected to our existing student learning management system and primed with pre-loaded prompts specifically crafted for a project or persona at Wesley.”
Once tested and refined, the technology was offered to a pilot group of teachers to use with their Year 6 students at the Glen Waverley Campus - one of Wesley’s three Melbourne metropolitan campuses. Students used Wesmigo as an AI learning coach, to assist them in identifying and refining a research question for their International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program Exhibition (PYPX), a self-directed and issues-focused project that encourages students to engage deeply in research.
When students visited the Wesmigo page in their learning management system, they were greeted with, ‘Hi, I'm Wesmigo, your friendly AI powered coach for your PYPX. Think about your passions and interests. What are some things that you enjoy or are interested in?’ This greeting and provocation starts the conversation in a direction that benefits the task.
Following the successful proof of concept trial, Wesmigo was then rolled out to Year 6 students at the St Kilda Road and Elsternwick Campuses. After positive feedback from PYP teachers and students, the Digital Learning and Practice team plans to scale Wesmigo for other specific learning tasks at other year levels.
“Developing a tool that was safe and age appropriate was a crucial consideration. In the prototype phase there were several iterations of Wesmigo to craft the priming prompts. One of the key challenges was figuring out how to establish guardrails to keep the AI on task and deliberate in our use for creating learning experiences. The team tested and refined the prompts and consulted academic articles and books to guide the development of Wesmigo for the Wesley context and specifically to only respond with information related to the Primary Years Program Exhibition project.
“Wesmigo is integrated into our existing learning management system environment, enabling us to present bespoke guides to help students navigate and understand the strengths and limitations of AI. The Wesmigo user guide encourages students to analyse and scrutinise Wesmigo’s output though the lens of detective, judge, explorer and superhero, to ensure it is used effectively,” says Paterson.
The AI aligns with Wesley’s philosophy on education, “We are continually looking at ways in which we can increase the depth and breadth of student learning. As lifelong learners, the need to innovate is constant and ongoing. Wesmigo provides students with a guided AI experience that promotes deep understanding and consideration of topics of inquiry. Students learn how to interact with a large language model and other ways to research their inquiry topic in more depth.
“The potential is limitless. For example, students learning to code can use generative AI to support debugging or refining their code. AI can discuss any topic with students, follow their thinking, help them make new connections and gain insights that they would otherwise have missed.
“We are developing and researching ways we can create accessible skill building activities, such as prompt engineering, to enable students to better use large language models beyond their use of Wesmigo at school. We are also exploring the many applications Wesmigo has for specific learning tasks within other year levels at the College,” he says.
As staff use Wesmigo, they are generating new ideas for its application like assisting in further developing inquiry questions, being a mentor/coach, critiquing and giving feedback on draft work and chatting with fictional characters.
“We are particularly interested in the ways that AI might encourage students to think more deeply,” Paterson says.
Hadyn Thompson, Year 6 Teacher is enthusiastic about the AI, “Having the prompts to guide students in their inquiry allowed them to develop deeper levels of thinking. By not giving students complete answers, (Wesmigo) allowed them to think about what was important in the response given and go do further research where required.”
Sarah Ho, PYP Coordinator added, “Wesmigo scaffolded the challenging process of students articulating their ideas and vision into a central idea with lines of inquiry.”
Students have also been won over by the AI’s capabilities.
“You could just send a transcript [to yourself] and get your whole chat back - I really love that,” says Ayaan in Year 6.
Clara, also in Year 6 commented, “It gives you a straightforward answer but not too straightforward that it just gives you the answer - it makes you think.”