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The Promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Education

Originally published on LinkedIn on November 3rd, 2020

The landscape of education is going through a major transformation and has been immensely affected by the constant digitization of resources, further catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools, universities, and education centers closing down abruptly, all learning has been forced to pivot to a remote model, something inherently new to most students, teachers, and parents.

What seemed to be a reprieve in some parts of the world via outdoor activities crawling back to life has quickly served as a false positive, as we are now seeing multiple countries across the globe enforcing a second lockdown as the number of cases are on the rise once again. That leaves the education community on the precipice, with some tough choices to be made in regards to how teaching methods ought to be carried out — do schools who were preparing to go back in the spring carry on with distance learning, or do they take the risk and move forward with in-person classes like many schools already have done?

It is important to emphasize the fact that while the digitalization of learning techniques was moving at an accelerated pace pre-pandemic, COVID-19 has served as a catalyst to turbocharge this move and send it into the stratosphere, especially in the higher education space. The improvements in online learning techniques that we have already witnessed in the past 8 months are creating more pressure for companies and institutions to introduce different kinds of learning environments with a focus on flexibility, personalization, adaptability, and accessibility for our students.

The future of education in a post-COVID-19 world is yet to be determined but numerous experts in the field appear to be constructing and illustrating tentative mental models of what it may look like. A key force driving this digitalization of education over the last few years has been the improvements in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and we dive deeper into how specific advances in these technologies are aiding both students and teachers.

To deconstruct the question at hand — what is the goal of an educator? In my opinion, it is to help students understand concepts and implement such learnings, all while working to improve learning efficacy and also to bridge certain learning gaps. However, educators today are unable to spend the appropriate amount of time required to maximize a child’s potential because their time is consumed with mundane tasks that should be automated. Discussed below are some insights into how Artificial Intelligence will play a key role in improving the lives of our students as well as tackling the problem of teacher burnout.

Helping students

  • The human to AI interface: AI is able to monitor and learn about students and their tendencies to understand what they are proficient in and where their learning gaps are. AI is now able to determine what material the student needs to learn and can help drive personalized and efficient learning by providing a differentiated and customized learning experience that focuses on the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, without ever feeding the student redundant information (it is critical to not create useless feedback loops). This not only saves time but also improves the speed of learning.
  • Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): Given the additional free time, teachers can now support social-emotional learning and develop a 1–1 relationship with students which will allow for better collaboration and encourage self-regulation and perseverance among students. The emotional state of a student affects how they focus, engage, and stay motivated to learn. Recently, an EdTech company introduced a product that attempts to identify the emotional state of a student via techniques such as the individual’s keyboard strokes and mouse actions. It runs an algorithm that is able to provide the appropriate intervention in the form of personalized support or provides this information to the teacher in order to reinforce these interventions.
  • With AI and its abilities, we can now connect to different classrooms across the world inducing great cooperation and communication skills especially during a time like this where interactions are so low, improving the SEL component for students.

Helping teachers avoid burnout

An issue discussed ad nauseum and one that remains a sad truth in our global education society is the fact that the teaching profession is one of the most underpaid and underappreciated professions. Some of the use cases of AI technologies, listed below, that we are already seeing and going to see in the near future will be aimed at helping teachers reduce certain workloads, thereby allowing for more free time, which in turn will hopefully reduce stress levels and burnout — all of which makes the profession more attractive.

  • The ability to grade papers and homework questions, some of which are already happening today. Machines grading open-ended responses is an area that has a lot of room for improvement, which I believe we will see in due time, as we continue to feed data into these networks.
  • Analytics dashboards have become a hot topic in the education space because it automates what used to be human involvement of collecting and sifting through data in order to arrive at certain conclusions, which is extremely time-consuming. Teachers can now look at readymade dashboards and understand where the learning gaps of his/her students are.
  • Creating quizzes and homework assignments is a tedious task for teachers, that doesn’t yield the best results because different students struggle with different questions. This is something that can be personalized to each individual with the help of Artificial Intelligence.
  • Recording administrative tasks like attendance are something that teachers should not have to waste their time on.
  • AI can also help provide information to teachers that they can use to educate themselves to improve their students’ learning. AI can identify gaps in a teacher’s material and provide a recommendation. For example, if multiple students submit an incorrect answer, the AI alerts are able to alert the teacher of the instance. The teacher can now provide hints to students or focus on reducing the conceptual gap for that given topic.

I also believe that the role of a teacher will slowly change to somewhat of a coach or mentor with some focus on developing learning content. The whole point of AI (and we are already seeing some implementations on a small scale) is to free up teachers time and allow them to focus on more imperative, rewarding tasks like discovering the learning gaps of students and working directly with them to bridge those gaps and rectify any mistakes they may be making.

In this piece, I have spoken about the potential looming benefits of AI to both teachers and students in the education space. In my next piece, I will be diving into the broad potential of the future of AI in education and what the landscape of things may look like, as well as the risks that are involved with implementing such technologies.

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