How AI is Disrupting Education

  • 5 March 2018
  • Walter Couture

We test students today to see how much they have learned. We measure their test answers against the teacher’s questions. And sometimes we measure their scores against their classmates to see how they did relative to their peers.

But in the world of AI, this is child’s play. There is so much more we can learn about our students than their responses to our questions, and there is so much more students can learn on their own.

AI offers the hope of leading us in the right direction and is already disrupting the field of education and the way we help students learn and grow.

Kids already use AI on their phones, getting answers and directions from Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. There aren’t too many questions that these virtual personal assistants can’t answer. And they’re part of a strong growth market for investors.

And while AI is helping kids in their personal lives, it’s about to become more involved in their school lives. Teachers will know, not only what the students got right, but we could argue, more importantly, what they got wrong – and why it was wrong, and how they arrived at the right answer, and what was their thinking process and emotional state at the time? Where, why and how did they struggle? How long did it take them to get the right answer? Were they guessing or following a sound logical strategy? Were the questions fair to them or somehow biased?

This is the kind of information that AI will give the teachers to “recalculate” their strategies and individualize their instruction for each student. This will help us understand their perceptions, their learning difficulties, their feelings, their thought processes, and their rate of learning.

But that will take the teacher a lot of time, won’t it? AI has some ideas about that, too, with applications in the areas of robotic classroom assistance, smart content creation, intelligent tutoring, virtual facilitators and virtual environments.

Smart content goes viral

Igor Zakharevich/123RF

Out-dated textbooks are being replaced by AI’s digital content that offers more opportunity for exploration and engagement. Digital versions of textbooks, digital guides, and interactive digital sources are changing the way children acquire information. It’s changing how adults get information, too, with corporate training departments going digital as well.

Content Technologies, Inc. is an AI development company specializing in automation of business processes and intelligent instruction design. It has created a suite of smart content services for secondary education and beyond, including applications like Cram101 and JustTheFacts101 that convert textbook content into easily digestible, “smart” study guides, which are made accessible on Amazon.

Netex Learning allows educators to design digital content and curricula across multiple devices, using audio, video, and Online-instructor assessment. It is also used by corporate training departments for interactive virtual training, self-assessments, and video conferencing applications.

Jigsaw has developed a virtual classroom where each student can review his or her understanding of the specific material, using the medium preferred. AI-driven activity tools allow simultaneous engagement of students and provide real-time monitoring of performance. The Jigsaw application is also used by corporate training departments for individual and collaborative training, capturing whiteboard ideas for later use.

This kind of AI-driven learning helps students learn they need to learn, in the way they want and on the device they prefer, and maximizes instructor accessibility and effectiveness.

AI tutors are standing by 24/7

Students always do better when they can work with a tutor. But finding one is never easy, and finding one that knows the content you need and one that fits your style of learning makes it even tougher.

AI has an alternate solution, and research has shown that these Intelligent Tutoring Systems perform as well, if not better than human tutors. Carnegie Mellon University used cognitive science and AI technologies to develop personalized tutoring and real-time feedback for post-secondary students.

Mika – Carnegie Learning

The University designed and tested a system, called iTalk2Learn system16, to assess how well students learned fractions, by using information on each one’s mathematical knowledge, cognitive needs, and emotional state. It wasn’t just about getting the right answers. It was also about where and why they struggled.

Robots make good teacher aides

AI technologies have been disrupting the field of education in many ways, including the introduction of robots into the classroom. Robots have a vast store of knowledge, can adapt their teaching style to suit an individual student, and make learning fun.

In addition, robots are especially valuable in helping autistic and other children with special needs because they are not subject to the prejudices and negative emotions that human teachers may have. They are less threatening and never tire or lose patience.

Last year, Singapore began using robots as teaching assistants in kindergarten. The robots read stories, helped with math lessons, and also helped shy children become more comfortable and participate more in activities. They helped autistic children in dealing with social interactions.

Many schools are using AI robots in the form of “chatbots.” These are applications that can respond automatically to students requests. Professor Ashok Goel from the University of Georgia used a chatbot to answer students’ emails about course assignments. The students were unable to tell the difference between the bot responses and human responses.

Educators are also using virtual environments and virtual characters who can think, act and react, and communicate in a natural way with students.

The University of Southern California (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies uses computer animation to develop human-like virtual characters and realistic social interactions. Its Captivating Virtual Instruction for Training (CVIT) is a learning strategy that integrates live classroom techniques with virtual technologies—including augmented reality, intelligent tutors, and others.

Many companies are getting into the educational AI space and taking advantage of all the electronic devices available to students by using gaming, animation and other techniques to engage and motivate.

Screentime Learning, co-founded by Gene Swank, used research on cognitive science and predictive analysis to create an app that requires students to answer quizzes before they can access their mobile device. Responses are analyzed and questions changed to match student aptitudes.

Century Intelligent Learning uses AI to identify student gaps in knowledge and recommends next steps. TrueSehelf uses an AI engine to create unlimited math questions based on the strengths and weaknesses of each student.

Teachers are the heart and soul of our educational system. They struggle to find the time to devote to each student. They want to understand the needs of each and want to provide the best learning path for each. The universities and entrepreneurs creating AI products may be just what they need to achieve those goals.

About Walter Couture

Walter is an award-winning writer and blogger; former K12 teacher, corporate and college executive. Managed $100 million sales force for Received BA in Psychology from University of Minnesota, MA in Teaching & Learning with Technology from Ashford University.