Why we should be embracing AI – Jeff Neill

Jeff Neill, the director of College Counselling at Graded – The American School of Sao Paulo, Brazil, spoke to the editor of THE Counsellor, Seeta Bhardwa, about why counsellors should embrace AI

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Seeta Bhardwa

THE Counsellor
19 Oct 2023
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Jeff Neill

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Anyone who has spoken to Jeff for more than five minutes will know that he is not only passionate about AI but also pretty knowledgeable about the subject. So much so that he has launched his own newsletter, Tech-neill-ology, explaining how AI and generative technology can be used in the high-school counselling space.

“It is the biggest concern I have in the realm of education, but it’s also a great opportunity,” Jeff says, succinctly summarising two of the most common feelings about AI.

Jeff’s view on AI and related tools is that they are likely to stick around and evolve. So it would make more sense to teach students and counsellors to use them responsibly, rather than shy away from them.

The key is to understand how these programmes can be used, without compromising on teaching students how to think and formulate their own ideas. 

For example, says Jeff, Chat GPT can actually provide good first drafts of essays. But it is necessary for these essays to be fact-checked and proofread by a human, to ensure that the copy still makes sense. 

Jeff references a piece of research looking at three different essays: one that was written entirely by AI, one that was written entirely by a human and one that was written by AI and then edited by a human. And it was that third essay that was found to be the best written. 

AI is already being incorporated into testing and education. The International Baccalaureate announced earlier this year that it would allow generative AI to be used in essays. “But doing the opposite would be a mistake,” says Jeff, reiterating that it would be wiser to teach students to use this tool responsibly and effectively, rather than ignore it entirely.

Moving away from AI, the other two pressing issues for school counsellors that Jeff mentions are far less new and revolutionary: the focus on university prestige and the rising costs of university.

“The fixation on prestige will take a long time to go away,” says Jeff. “But the percentage of college-bound people continues to grow, and those places can’t accommodate everyone.” Many counsellors across all regions will recognise this concern.

And on the rising costs of university, Jeff says that it is getting to the point where, even if parents or guardians can afford to send their students to the high-ticket institutions, they might be wondering if these places are worth the cost.

“There is a difference between ability to pay and willingness to pay,” he says.

This rise in cost has also led students in Jeff’s school to look beyond the traditional destinations of the US, the UK and Canada. Instead, they are considering other countries where courses are taught in English, such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

For counsellors, Jeff says that advising students is about finding the balance between best fit, brand recognition and parental expectations. 

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