Thanks to AI in the classroom: the future is now

By Alice Liu

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are taking the world by storm with innovations and functionality in everyday life -- all while providing convenience and utilities to the community. AI is seen and used in simple services such as Siri to more complicated ones such as personalized lesson plans, which are commonly used in the classroom. The field of education has seen much improvement and development over the centuries with its new methods and technology. Whether it’s speech recognition or self-driving cars, AI has proved itself to be a useful force of technology for the future. Now, with the ever growing inventions and uses of Artificial Intelligence, teachers and students alike can find even more uses for tech in the classroom.

Student has interactive online learning chemistry and biology course. Image credit: Dreamstime

Student has interactive online learning chemistry and biology course. Image credit: Dreamstime

PERSONALIZED LEARNING THROUGH AI

Teaching a class full of students and making sure that they all understand and retain the information being taught can be tough, especially when their ways of learning differ from each other. However, with AI in the classroom, teachers and students alike can use certain programs for smart content such as digitized textbooks, or intelligent tutoring systems that are catered to a student’s needs. 

DIGITIZED TEXTBOOKS

Millions of students are using different digitized textbook software, namely Pearson, an educational software system that uses students’ data to automatically provide real time feedback like a teacher would. It is one of the many companies transitioning from paper to digital textbooks, making it easier to update new and improved material online and be accessible whenever and wherever. Pearson offers the up-to-date content for a reasonable price, which is something many other companies are doing in an attempt to digitize their paper textbooks and make it easier for students to access them. 

Another popular example of digitized learning is Rosetta Stone, where users can learn different languages with the help of an AI and virtual learning system. It uses image and speech recognition for the best and most effective user experience in learning foreign languages. Its technology identifies the word being spoken and the user’s voice data 100 times per second with native speaker samples and provides real-time assessment. Systems like Rosetta Stone and Pearson are innovative ways of helping people learn through AI-powered systems. Not only can a personalized learning experience be essential for a student’s understanding and success, but it can also provide useful information for teachers about how each student is learning so they can make changes to their curriculum. 

INTELLIGENT TUTORING SYSTEMS

Students are different and unique in their own ways, whether it be their learning style, knowledge of different materials, or even personality. Either way, those differences and needs are usually customized by teachers in a learning environment, but could technology help with that even more? The answer is yes through learning algorithm of intelligent tutoring systems (“ ITS”).

ITS, using AI, can transform teaching to adapt to a student’s weaknesses and help them work on the areas they need the assistance on. In a case conducted by ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces), an ITS, the pass rate in a math course at Clemson University jumped from 45 to 70 percent after it was introduced to an AI software. Through cognitive and ITS, students can drastically improve their skills in a specific area. For example, if a student is struggling with a problem, cognitive tutoring systems will take data gathered from how the student answered previous questions, apply what they know from that data, and identify which part of the question that is difficult and follow up with exercises to help the student practice that skill. 

HOW AI EMPOWERS AND AUGMENTS TEACHERS’ CAPABILITIES

The main difference between these AI-powered software systems and actual teachers in the classroom is that the former is more accessible through the internet. Despite the increased convenience of smart education systems, they will never be able to replace a good teacher. Instead, researchers are hoping for the AI to augment student learning by performing more menial tasks freeing up the teacher’s time to better motivate and connect with the students. 

On top of that, AI can be used to assist teachers in tasks such as grading and plagiarism checks. One major use of AI is Turnitin, an online plagiarism detector that promotes academic integrity within students and makes it easier for teachers to grade papers. Another system that utilizes AI is Gradescope, a grading software system that helps teachers grade and mark essays more efficiently. 

Needless to say, AI brings so much to the classroom. With other emerging technologies, it is entirely possible that AI may soon be taking over the classroom with new and innovative teaching and learning devices. From personalized courses to digital learning, AI is sure taking a different approach to the more “traditional” way of learning. According to Charles Fadel, the founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, “AI is arguably the number one driving technological force of the first half of the century…” AI can be seen improving students’ and teachers’ lives in the classroom by providing access to new information, intelligent tutoring systems, and just overall being a great resource to utilize in the classroom to enrich learning. 

BOTTOM LINE: IS AI HELPING OR HURTING OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM?

AI is becoming increasingly ubiquitous globally and permeating into our lives without our knowledge, according to the RAND Corporation reports, “AI has so far found a perch in three "core challenges" of teaching: intelligent tutoring systems, automated essay scoring and early warning systems to identify struggling students who may be at risk of not graduating.” As much as AI can be used to level the playing field of education, some fear that it may widen the AI divide as AI tools will help advanced students and affluent school districts excel more leaving other students lagging behind due to lack of computer technology and connectivity. As schools are starting to embrace AI in the classroom, students who do not have technology access are at a huge disadvantage. Researchers have long been concerned about the chicken and egg correlation between wealth and education. Ready or not, the AI revolution is here and is likely to exacerbate the education gap. Take actions, whether you are a teacher, student or technologist, everyone should get involved and collaborate to help shape the future of AI learning. Ultimately, It is up to key stakeholders to work towards lessening the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. Only then, will all be free to reap the benefits of AI.

Alice Liu serves as intern at Equal Opportunity Technology (EqOpTech), a nonprofit organization that promotes equal access to technology. EqOpTech strives to enable at-risk students with refurbished computers to leverage the AI education opportunity.

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