Professor AI: Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Key to the Future of Education

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One sector that AI can benefit immensely is education.

Self-driving trucks, automated invoicing, Siri, Alexa, Netflix movie suggestions, quantum computing and robo-restaurant servers. These are all different ways artificial intelligence has become integrated into our lives.

AI is being implemented across industries, and its reach will only continue to grow. Accounting firms now use it to get human workers off mundane tasks like spreadsheet analysis, while other industries are realizing its ability to streamline processes or influence a supply chain.

One sector that AI can benefit immensely is education. According to “Artificial Intelligence: The Next Digital Frontier?”, a paper by the McKinsey Global Institute, EdTechXGlobal and Ibis Capital estimate that educational institutions put around $160 billion in 2016 into education technology, and that spend is predicted to grow 17% each year through 2020. Education technology includes AI, which can help expand teachers’ reach in and outside the classroom.

Embracing AI means making some changes within the system, but as technology evolves, education will have to do the same. Here are a few of the potential benefits of AI in the classroom.

AI Grading Saves Teachers Time

AI can prove helpful in any industry with repetitive tasks – teachers spend a lot of time grading. Early forms of AI-assisted grading have been traditionally focused on grading multiple choices tests, but essay grading is being tested as well. AI may have some weaknesses when it comes to grading more subjective assignments like essays, but according to TeachThought, essay-grading software will improve during the next few years.

Teachers can also use AI to help them analyze their courses and find weaknesses in the material, or to look over a test question that was frequently missed by students. Online college courses are also using it to assess student progress and to let professors know when a student may need extra assistance with a concept.

By using AI, teachers get a chance to be more hands-on instead of lecturing from the front of the classroom, giving them the freedom to become a facilitator of learning – which is the goal of the flipped classroom model.

AI Tutoring Can Reach More Students

AI tutoring can also help supplement learning outside the classroom. In a 2016 paper by Pearson titled “Intelligence Unleashed: An Argument for AI in Education,” intelligent tutoring systems are one way students can benefit. The programs use machine learning techniques, algorithms and neural networks to decide how best to help each student. These model-based adaptive tutors can model cognitive states, help the student learn through a Socratic method of questioning and discussion and use “social simulation models.”

A 2017 study by PwC found that 58% of respondents think AI bot tutoring can replace real people in five years. However, the author cautions against a fear of AI.

“People will be working with AI, man and machine together. That’s how technologies have evolved in the past, there’s no reason to think it will be any other way in the future. As AI gets better, humans will stay involved and get better with AI,” said Anand Rao, PwC Head of AI and Data & Analytics in an interview with Forbes.

In the PwC study, more than half of respondents stated they thought AI can help disadvantaged schoolchildren. Low-income families may not have as many avenues to educate their children at home. Through AI programs, the children can begin learning on their own, and parents could also learn new ways to help their children through the educational process.

AI Teaching Assistants

A Georgia Tech professor, Ashok Goel, created his own AI teaching assistant to help with online student questions – his massive open online course (MOOC) had 400 students from all over the globe asking around 10,000 questions during a semester.

The task was overwhelming for Goel and human teaching assistants, so he created Jill Watson. She answers routine questions, such as inquiries about file formats for assignments. So far, it’s been working well – her answers are now at a 97% accuracy rate after some tweaking – and students didn’t even know she was AI until it was revealed later in the semester. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, Goel said in an interview with Business Insider.

“To capture the full scope of what a human TA does, we’re not months away or years away. We’re decades, maybe centuries away, at least in my estimation. None of us (AI experts) think we’re going to build a virtual teacher for 100 years or more.”

Personalized Learning: Tailoring Education to the Individual

As we learn more about how the human brain works, classrooms evolve. But are they keeping up with shifts in human psychology and population? Many classrooms still have the same setup from years ago: one teacher, 25-30 kids sitting at desks all day. Meanwhile, kids who may learn best from moving or visual learners suffer while their learning styles aren’t catered to.

From this problem, however, a developing field has been born: personalized learning.

It’s received more than $240 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the goal is to create software that can automatically tailor lesson plans and learning goals to each student based on their performance. The software would coach them through problem areas, and gives the teacher more time to give each student individualized attention.

“If you’re behind, then they’re using terms and concepts that create a general impression of ‘Hey, I’m not good at this.’ And science and math in particular – if they’re talking about something you haven’t had the explanation on, you just really give up in that area and there is no way that you are brought back into it,” Bill Gates said in an interview with The Verge.

Gates gives another example of how community colleges could use personalized learning to help students in remedial courses. If a student fails an entrance exam based on his or her math score, the course doesn’t just focus on the areas they missed. It goes over everything. However, a personalized learning path could help the student learn the areas they are lacking in and move on to their core courses sooner, which could also aid the school in student retention. If a student can move on to other classes more quickly, it could help them remain engaged.

One personalized learning tool, called Activate Instruction, allows teachers to create educational playlists for each student by sorting through more than 18,000 educational tools. Teachers can then collaborate with each other and share the playlists, creating a blended learning environment.

Only the Beginning

In the Pearson report, researchers state that “AIEd is also a powerful tool to open up what is sometimes called the ‘black box of learning,’ giving use deeper and more fine-grained understandings of how learning actually happens.

In the classroom, AI can aid in collaboration through forming student groups based on interests or learning patterns of the students, and can also facilitate collaboration by using problem-solving strategies.

Additionally, virtual reality can provide students with an immersive experience that, when paired with AI, can be a learning facilitator in the student journey.

Eventually, Pearson predicts, AI may help us move past the “stop-and-test” system currently in place. If AI can be used to analyze a student’s progress, then the data can be used to replace standardized testing with learning activities that are more substantial and can monitor learning in real time.

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