25 May 2016

Artificial Intelligence in the classroom

By Chris Butler, head of IT delivery

The way we educate children is changing – and discoveries in technology are set to impact the education sector in the future.  Within the next ten years, I expect we will start seeing artificial intelligence (AI) tutors supporting our children in their learning initiatives.

Imagine a classroom where the children are watching a lecture on their tablet devices – complete with animations, videos of a real experiment and experts from around the world explaining a complex problem.  After the video, a few students who are struggling with the concepts presented in the lecture sit down with their teacher in the corner to go through the information – and the rest of the class sit down at their PCs or get out their mobile phones and log onto an app where they can speak to their own personal tutor.

This personal tutor knows the student, understands their learning styles, and is knowledgeable about the student’s progress in recent similar subjects and exams.  The student asks their personal tutor a few questions via the ‘Live Chat’ feature to help them get a better understanding of the topic of the lecture.  The tutor responds immediately, and offers advice and guidance on where to find out more, whilst answering the student’s specific questions.

The student can then ask more questions, or return to their work – so half the classroom ask more questions, and half start the work.  No one is disturbed, held up or rushed along – each student can progress at his/her own pace and doesn’t need to worry about what other students think about their questions – they are kept private, and the tutor is a piece of software – it is an AI Tutor.

Automating admin

The beauty of AI in education, is that it won’t replace the role of teachers – but will enhance a number of areas so that learners get access to the info and support they really need, while teachers can focus on some of the more valuable areas of their job, providing coaching and learning support services to their students.

AI could free teachers up to spend their time helping students understand more difficult ideas, formulate opinions and develop personal learning strategies – rather than getting tied up in red tape or admin.  For instance, artificial intelligence is now being employed to take on simple work grading – and maybe in the future, technology will enable more complex projects such as essays to be marked by AI tutors to allow teachers to spend more time in the classroom.

Future investment into AI

Bill Gates has invested over $240m so far in a project to develop AI-powered personalised learning solutions for children – enabling children to follow their own individual lesson plans created for them by a software application.  This is to try and solve the issue that children learn at different rates and the traditional way of teaching the same thing to an entire class doesn’t work for everyone – technology is starting to enable a different way of learning.

Just think in our classrooms today – we think nothing of using a video to support a complicated explanation in class – which in the past would have been pre-arranged days in advance to book out the school TV.  Integrating online quizzes and challenges into lessons have all been powered by technology, and the trend of mobility means that many students already own the mobile and tablet devices they will need to take advantage of future AI technology – making it accessible with lower barriers to entry.

This is an incredibly interesting space, and transitioning to the cloud and increasing the use of mobile devices in learning within schools enables the possibilities within the education tech sector to become a reality, rather than a dream – sooner, rather than later.

Do you think we will have Artificial Intelligence teachers in the classroom in the next decade?  Are there any times when you think technology is actually a hindrance to learning?  I’d love to hear your views on the subject.