How AI is Revolutionizing Education
By Jammy BlumerSeptember 24, 2020
Artificial intelligence has become increasingly relevant in a number of major industries. We read a lot about how it’s changing manufacturing and logistics, for instance, with machines managing everything from product packaging to fleet management. There’s also a great deal of talk about how AI is revolutionizing healthcare, through improved administrative efficiency, to better treatments, to reduced costs. These are just a few examples, but the list could go on for some time.
One area in which people are only just beginning to talk about the potential impact of AI, however, is education. And already it’s clear that the technology, in its various forms, offers some significant benefits.
In some ways, the most fundamental and widespread application of AI in the modern world is computer systems’ ability to gather and analyze vast amounts of data. In any environment — from a massive retail company, to a healthcare facility, to an investment firm — “big data” can produce insights that we simply can’t come by via human analysis (or at least can’t come by efficiently). The thinking now is that this same aspect of AI can be applied in classrooms as a means of bringing about personalized learning for all students.
To be perfectly clear, the suggestion is not the AI will replace teachers and cater to students as separate individuals. Rather, it’s that intelligent systems can be used to learn about students, identify their struggles (as well as what helps them learn), and address learning in a targeted and effective way. This would stop educators from having to “teach to the middle,” such that they aren’t leaving students behind. Instead, educators could focus more on relationships and progressing through lessons, with confidence that personalized learning systems will help struggling students to keep pace.
In addition to giving teachers the freedom to focus on relationships and progress with help from personalized learning systems, AI can also help to free teachers from some of the administrative tasks that typically take up so much of their time. It’s not uncommon for teachers to spend roughly half of their time on things that don’t involve lesson planning or direct teaching. Grading assignments, scheduling meetings, handing communications, dealing with HR and shifting schedules…. All of these things can add up to hours of obligations on a day-to-day basis.
Not all of this can be managed with AI. It will sometimes be necessary, for instance, for teachers to take time to compose personal emails to colleagues or parents. And naturally there are times when meetings are required. By and large though, AI technology can be used to automate many of the administrative obligations that keep teachers from devoting more time to their students. AI programs can compose simple email replies, draw up lesson plan outlines, schedule meetings, and even grade assignments. In the very near future, teachers will likely be able to input very basic information into their computers and let AI systems use it to complete these tasks — freeing the teachers up to devote their attention to students.
Voice Assistants for Students
Our first two examples above essentially involve software — AI systems within computers that can work with data and automate tasks to help teacher and students. In some cases though, we’re also likely to see AI-equipped devices beginning to play a bigger role in education. Chief among these devices will be intelligent voice assistants.
In the past, the amount of data needed in machine learning has been somewhat difficult for wireless systems to handle. In other words, a computer may be able to practice advanced AI, but communicating meaningful actions or insights to a device like a smart speaker may have been difficult. Improvements in device electronics and wireless networks, however is quickly doing away with this problem. On the electronics front, we’ve seen printed circuit boards being built with increasingly sophisticated and powerful antennae that are specifically engineered to handle greater demand on wireless communications. The best PCB antenna designs are now created with Bluetooth transmission and automated functions in mind, and are thus able to equip smaller and smaller devices with AI functionality. On the wireless network front meanwhile, a combination of stronger Wi-Fi and broader networks (like the emerging 5G networks) is making it easier for these improved electronic devices to connect to computer systems.
What all of this means for AI in education is that we’re beginning to see voice assistants that can wirelessly communicate with computer systems at all times, and essentially become automated educators for students. When studying or working on assignments at home, students can maintain open dialogue with these assistant — asking questions, checking work, getting feedback, and so on. The voice assistants will automatically access both class- and school-specific material and the internet more broadly, and will cater to students’ needs in real time.
There is also starting to be a lot of talk about AI bringing about more global education. To some extent this idea actually ties into that of voice assistants playing a larger role in teaching children. While the point of AI in education is not for systems and devices to replace teachers, it’s a simple reality that in many cases and in certain parts of the world, a voice assistant will be more affordable than regular schooling or tutoring. It’s conceivable that people without real access to affordable education could effectively gain access to steady education through voice assistants and internet programs.
Another way in which AI could make education more global, though, would be through translation — one concept that the technology has already nearly perfected. We know, for instance, that Google can transcribe translations in real time on certain devices already. A device can “listen” to one language and produce its translation in another through text. This simple but incredibly useful application of AI can and will be used to provide students with access to educational material from around the world.
All of these points illustrate how AI is poised to transform and improve education. And the really exciting thing is that we’re only at the beginning of this revolution.
Prepared by: Jammy Blumer
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