Have you noticed more discussion recently about Artificial Intelligence or AI? When first hearing “Artificial Intelligence” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is it something that you can easily define? Perhaps your understanding/reference point is something you’ve seen in the movies. For myself, being an 80s child, my initial frame of reference is Star Wars, I immediately think of R2D2 or C3PO. My mind then wanders to thoughts of “I, Robot” starring Will Smith, in which the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and to take action on their own. And more currently, I think of the Alexa, Echo, Siri and others that have gained popularity, even more so recently. But what is the true meaning of AI and how do we see it in daily life?
The concept of “Artificial intelligence” can be hard to understand/grasp, especially when trying to think about how it can be applied to education as well as many other sectors of society. In December 2015, the Getting Smart #AskAboutAI research began and over these two years, they have identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as recreation, transportation, education, healthcare and gaming to name just a few. The campaign focused on AI in regard to three objectives: employment, ethics and education. How can AI be beneficial for different industries, what are some of the uses, what are the benefits and risks associated with it, and of greater personal interest, what are the possibilities for AI in education.
According to Getting Smart’s “Ask About AI” report, the notion behind AI is that machines can exhibit human intelligence. The concept of “machine learning” started in 1956 and is when algorithms are used to interpret data and take some action or to complete a task. As a foreign language teacher, I became aware of machine learning years ago, in the form of language translators. AI, at its base, is computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a “super intelligence.” It is the development of computers that can complete tasks which normally require “human intelligence” however it learns on its own and continues to improve on past iterations. AI becomes smarter, knowledge grows, and it expands the realm of possibilities for society. Machine learning is actually a subset of artificial intelligence. It is said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.
Everyday uses of Machine Learning and AI that you may not be aware of.
In my quest to learn more about AI and its implications for the future of learning, I needed to first understand how we were already using AI and perhaps, not even realizing it. I asked colleagues for their thoughts on AI and many were as unsure as I about how it is being used currently. Here are 5 common uses:
- Communication: Spam filters, powered by AI, streamline the amount of spam appearing in your inbox. As email senders (real or automated) become more careful with selecting words which have not been flagged previously, the filters need to adapt and continue to learn based on words that the user also flags. There is an added component of ML in this, in that through the algorithms already in place by the email provider, additional filters are then created. Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
- Travel: If you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA( Estimated Time of Arrival). The airline industry uses AI, since autopilot qualifies as AI, where it is estimated that “human steered” flight time is only seven minutes of actual flight length.
- Social networking: When we use Facebook to share photos, the artificial intelligence is able to detect faces in the image and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has continued to add new features as part of its AI Initiative, to generate a more personalized and interactive user experience. Some social media sites, such as Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, chats to join, and news feeds of interest based on an analysis of user input and data. Even Google with its “cards” can provide a variety of personal recommendations based on your search history.
- Online Shopping: One that comes to mind quickly is Amazon, and how it suggests items you may be interested in, as a result of your prior searches and order history. Systems are in place to protect consumers against fraud, with alerts being sent almost simultaneously to an attempted transaction that is not recognized as a “typical” purchase or located in a non-home base location. All of this done through AI, which is used for identifying fraudulent transactions.
- Education: Teachers and students have a wide range of tools available, ranging from Google Searches, in which alternate search terms are instantly suggested, citation generators, plagiarism checkers, and even Siri has become a popular tool for searches. An astounding amount of information generated instantly, far more advanced from thirty years ago and society’s reliance on card catalogs, calculators and books.
But what does AI mean for today’s classrooms?
Looking at these common uses in everyday life makes it easier to think about some ways that Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms. Where will we see the biggest benefits? I think that it is important to take a look at your own classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How are you and the students spending your class time? What are some ways that you could get some of that time back by using AI? Time to dream big!
Thinking about my own classroom, some of the most time-consuming tasks are conferencing and finding time to work with each student, creating and reviewing assessments, locating appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate for students, offering more engaging and immersive learning experiences. AI can address each of these areas, increasing the time available to spend doing more interactive lessons, having students lead, having more time to focus on relationships in the classroom and truly providing students with a world full of opportunities, personalized to their needs and instantly available.
So how can AI help?
- Communication: Students and teachers will be able to communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students instantly paired with peers, helping each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits for being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses. Build foreign language skills, talk to someone about school, family, life in a country being studied, possibilities are endless for language learning.
- Differentiation: With the availability of AI, students and teachers will be able to connect with resources they need exactly when they need them. The entire internet of resources accessible within seconds, deliverable to each student saving valuable time for more interaction between teacher and student, and students and students. Through AI, students can have access to one to one tutors, creating more authentic learning experiences by pairing students with an expert or a virtual peer to learn with. Think of the benefits if each student could have instant access to a tutor wherever and whenever they needed one.
- Personalization: What better way to offer more personalized learning opportunities for students than to have AI be able to analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and find resources or create new questions to help students to greater understanding of the content. What about the potential for informing the classroom teacher, and working together to create new learning opportunities for students, but in a faster way, that relates directly to the student needs and offers authentic and timely feedback.
- Exploration: With the rise of augmented and virtual reality, and the benefits of bringing these into the classroom for students to have a more immersive learning experience and to see places and explore things that otherwise they would not, AI can be a tremendous benefit for this. Through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. Capabilities such as these are not something that will be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could show students want they want to explore, find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
- Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.
Considerations for the future.
Even though there has been concern expressed for what AI could mean for education: would AI lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have any negative impacts on student learning? There could not be a replacement of teachers because AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, vital components of relationships in the classroom. So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.
AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment. It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student. AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning. But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.