The world now boasts robo-advisors who pick stocks for investment portfolios and GPS apps that give drivers traffic forecasts for their morning commutes; Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) already impacts lives on a daily basis. Historically, education has been slow to adopt new technology, but it is unable to escape the far reach of AI. While still nascent in the world of education, AI presents tangible opportunities to better the way students learn.
Hold up, what’s AI? In Layman’s terms, Artificial Intelligence refers to a machine’s ability to execute tasks that normally require human intelligence. You may have heard of buzzwords such as “Machine Learning” and “Big Data.” These terms are not synonymous for AI, but they are importantly related. Machine Learning (“ML”) refers to a system’s ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. When a machine is fed data, it recognizes patterns and adjusts its own code accordingly. Big Data refers to the ongoing collection of data from various sources for the purpose of discovery and analysis, such as AI and ML.
So, what’s the big deal? The ability to train computers to accomplish tasks by simply processing and recognizing patterns within large quantities of data has endless applications.
There are numerous ways this powerful technology can impact education.
- Lessen Administrative Burden: AI can transform an existing grading process from a teacher’s burden to a teaching tool. In addition to grading assignments that typically require human resources, AI has the potential to recognize patterns in scores and writing, and even identify students or groups who under- or outperformed. Instructors can use these insights to address areas of student weakness in a time-efficient manner. Students at Georgia Institute of Technology might even find themselves receiving feedback from Jill Watson; a professor’s newly adopted artificial assistant!
- Dynamic Feedback: For years, the K-12 market has depended on standardized tests to assess concept mastery, but this method is slow to provide feedback and does not necessarily assess a student’s full range of knowledge. AI can identify holes in student achievement as well as areas of teacher or curriculum weakness with real-time results. Feedback from AI can be more rapid and holistic, and may result in better management of a classroom full of students with varying levels of achievement. For example, an AI application could analyze student outcomes of an assignment, present feedback on students that need more practice, and assign topic review and practice problems for trouble areas. Some online course providers such as Coursera already utilize AI in this form.
- Personalized Learning: Adaptive learning programs that utilize AI software respond to student needs in real time. This application of AI includes repeating topics the student has not mastered, or timing concept introduction and re-introduction to optimize knowledge retention. AI has the capacity to create completely individualized learning plans that dynamically adapt to student tendencies. These methods not only can be applied inside the classroom, but also at home through intelligent tutoring systems (“ITS”). Knewton, Carnegie Learning and Third Space Learning are just a few examples of companies making these AI applications a reality.
AI is not without its constraints, and cannot emulate certain human characteristics, such as empathy and encouragement, which are critically important to the emotional, social and behavioral development of students. While the limitations of AI cannot be ignored, neither can its potential to profoundly improve the way students are educated. The past two decades are marked by the struggle to personalize learning in order to accommodate various student backgrounds, learning styles and needs. By complementing the irreplaceable and distinctly human aspects of teacher-student relationships, AI’s capacity to provide actionable insights to educators and students will ultimately help transform the classroom from a “need to know” to “want to learn” environment.
Source: IBM Watson Education