The Role of Artificial Intelligence in the Future of Education

EDUCATION, SYSTEMS & TECHNOLOGY   |   5 minutes  |   March 29, 2019

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Gone are the days of library visits to photocopy a few pages from an Encyclopedia for a school project; thanks to a generation that has grown up with technology at their fingertips, school children, and even kindergartners, live in a world where education has changed, and where the internet is their primary source of entertainment and information.1 Chalkboards and photostats in the classroom are also a thing of the past, with the availability of smart technology such as interactive whiteboards, IT suites, and tablet-based learning becoming more commonplace in schools.2

It is inevitable – as technology continues to evolve and develop, so too will the way we learn.3

The rapid advancement of technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, has impacted all industries, including education.4 A recent report from IBM, Burning Glass and Business Higher Education Forum shows that the number of job opportunities for data and analytics skills will increase by 364,000 to 2,720,000 in 2020.5 That means that the gap between supply and demand of people with AI skills is growing, with one report showing a worldwide base of 300,000 AI professionals, but with millions of opportunities available,6 and this gap is resulting in even higher salaries for those in this field.7

If we hope to utilise AI’s full potential for everyone, our focus should be on exposing the next generation to AI early on, and utilising artificial intelligence in the classroom.8

Artificial Intelligence in education

The rapid advancement of technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, has impacted all industries, including education.

Artificial intelligence is expected to grow by 47.5% from 2017 to 2021 in the American education market, according to the latest Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector report.9

All of this is good news for teachers, as AI can be a great ally to a teacher. However, some educators fear the advance of AI and that it might replace the role of the teacher altogether. Teachers’ jobs are not at risk of being replaced by robots – while artificial intelligence programs can teach literacy or maths, the more complex impartation of social and emotional skills will always remain in the domain of humans.10

How AI is currently being used in education

Because AI is computer-based, it can be connected to different classrooms all over the world…

Microsoft and McKinsey’s recent report of over 2,000 students and 2,000 teachers from Canada, Singapore, the UK, and America shows that artificial intelligence (AI) is already providing teachers and schools with innovative ways to understand how their students are progressing, as well as allowing for a fast, personalised, targeted curation of content.11

  • Personalised learning: Managing a class of 30 students makes personalised learning nearly impossible. However, AI can provide a level of differentiation that customises learning specifically to an individual student’s weaknesses and strengths.12
  • Teacher’s aid: Teachers don’t only teach, they also spend hours grading papers, and preparing upcoming lessons. However, certain tasks, such as marking papers, could be done by robots, giving teachers a lighter workload and more flexibility to focus on other things.13 Machines can already grade multiple-choice tests, and are close to being able to assess hand-written answers. There is also potential for AI to improve enrollment and admissions processes.14
  • Teaching the teacher: Artificial intelligence makes comprehensive information available to teachers any time of day. They can use this information to continue educating themselves in things such as learning foreign languages or mastering complex programming techniques.15
  • Connecting everyone: Because AI is computer-based, it can be connected to different classrooms all over the world, fostering greater cooperation, communication, and collaboration among schools and nations.16

Examples of artificial intelligence in education

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Artificial intelligence is being applied successfully in several educational instances, and improves learning and student development, as well as the educators’ performance.

  1. Emotional well-being:17 A child’s emotional state affects how well or poorly they are able to focus, engage and stay motivated to learn. With this in mind, a team from the Department of Artificial Intelligence in Madrid, Spain, led by Dr Imbernon Cuadrado are working on a robot called ARTIE (Affective Robot Tutor Integrated Environment). ARTIE’s chief role is to identify the emotional state of a student through keyboard strokes and mouse action, and then, by running an algorithm that chooses the most appropriate intervention required, give the student personalised educational support. These range from encouraging words, to gestures, or attempts to increase the students’ interest and motivation towards a certain learning goal. ARTIE’s design team have focused on three cognitive states: concentrating, distracted and inactive, and have found that the social support behaviours provided by these robot tutors have positively impacted these students’ ability to learning.
  2. Spotting and filling the gaps:18 Artificial intelligence can identify the gaps in a teacher’s presentation and educational material. The teacher is alerted by the system when a large number of students submit an incorrect answer to a homework assignment. The teacher can then provide hints to the correct answer for future students in order to improve the conceptual foundation of learning for that topic going forward.
  3. Children working alongside AI:19 Nao is a humanoid robot that talks, moves, and teaches children from ages seven and up everything from literacy to computer programming. Nao engages children in learning STEM subjects, and provides a fun coding lab for students. This introduction to basic coding allows students to instruct the robot to perform certain things, such as hand gestures, emotional movements, and even choreographed dances. This way, students get the opportunity to become familiar with telling a robot (or program) to do the tasks they want to be done, and better prepares them to apply and train AI in the future.

Education applications powered by artificial intelligence

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These educational applications harness the power of AI to improve learning in students of all ages – from primary school through to college – and empower both learner and teacher with more avenues for reaching their educational goals.

  1. Thinkster Math:20 Thinkster Math is a tutoring app that blends real math curriculum with a personalised teaching style. They use artificial intelligence and machine learning in their math tutor app to visualise how a student is thinking as they work on a problem. This allows the tutor to quickly spot areas in a student’s thinking and logic that have caused them to become stuck, and assist them through immediate, personalised feedback.
  2. Brainly:21 Brainly is a platform where students can ask homework questions and receive automatic, verified answers from fellow students. The site even allows students to collaborate and find solutions on their own. Brainly uses machine learning algorithms to filter out spam.
  3. Content Technologies, Inc.:22 Content Technologies, Inc (CTI) is an AI company that uses Deep Learning to create customised learning tools for students, such as JustTheFacts101, where teachers import syllabi into a CTI engine. The CTI machine then uses algorithms to create personalised textbooks and coursework based on core concepts. Cram101 is another example of their AI-enhanced offering, where any textbook can be turned into a smart study guide, providing bite-sized content that is easy to learn in a short amount of time. It even produces multiple choice questions, saving students time and helping them learn more effectively.
  4. MATHiaU:23 Similar to Thinkster Math, Carnegie Learning’s MATHiaU offers AI-based tutoring tools for higher ed students who feel lost in lecturer-sized classrooms. The app is guided by each student’s unique learning process, keeps them aware of their daily progress, and helps teachers tailor lessons to meet each student’s specific struggle.
  5. Netex Learning:24 Netex Learning allows teachers to design and integrate curriculum across a variety of digital platforms and devices. The easy-to-use platform allows teachers to create customised student content that can be published on any digital platform. Teachers also get tools for video conferences, digital discussions, personalised assignments, and learning analytics that show visual representations of each student’s personal growth.

AI and our future workforce

The World Economic Forum estimates that, by 2022, a large proportion of companies will have adopted technologies such as machine learning, and therefore strongly encourages governments and education to focus on rapidly raising education and skills, with a focus on both STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and non-cognitive soft skills, in order to meet this impending need.25 Microsoft’s recent study shows that, by 2030, students will need to have mastered two facets of this new world by the time they graduate:26

  • Know how to utilise ever-changing technology, such as AI, to their advantage
  • Understand how to work with other people in a team to problem solve effectively

Preparing students to work alongside AI in the future can start early. As most children are comfortable with digital technology by the time they are of school age, teaching them the skills they’ll need to thrive in a digital workplace is important.27 Add the inclusion of AI in education, and the workforce of the future will be better prepared to face the unknown challenges of the workplace of tomorrow.

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