Artificial Intelligence (AI) is part of our everyday lives, when we search the internet, translate text from one language to another, or use a personal assistant like Siri or Alexa. But how is AI relevant to education and what can AI contribute to teaching and learning to help students and educators progress their understanding and knowledge more effectively?
In order to benefit from the potential benefits of AI in the workplace, from personalized cancer treatment specified according to individual genetic profiles generated by AI, to workplace automation that increases productivity, we must attend to the needs of education as a matter of urgency. To be blunt, none of these potential AI benefits will be achieved at scale unless we address education and AI now.
There are two key dimensions that need to be addressed:
- How can AI improve Education and help us to address some of the big challenges we face?
- How do we educate people about AI, so that they can benefit from AI?
1. AI to improve Education
The thoughtful design of AI approaches to educational challenges has the potential to provide significant benefits to educators, learners, parents and managers. However, it must not start with the technology, rather it must start with a thorough exploration of the educational problem to be tackled. A clear specification of the problem provides the basis on which a well-designed solution can be developed. Only when a solution design exists, can we start to consider what role AI can best play in that solution and what type of AI method, technique or technology should be used within that solution. There is an obvious and important role for teachers in the pursuit of a problem specification and solution design. Without this enterprise, the technologists cannot design effective AI solutions to the key educational challenges recognised across the globe.
Imagine a classroom or lecture hall setting ten years hence where data about each learner’s movements, speech and facial expressions are automatically logged by passive capture devices within the fabric of the classroom. This information is combined with data about each learner’s performance recorded by the school’s assessment system, and by data input from teacher, parent and the learner themselves. All this data is used to update the class teacher’s pupil records and to provide data for an AI based teaching assistant that keeps track of every learner’s progress: cognitive, emotional and metacognitive. The AI teaching assistant relieves the teacher of all record keeping and recording activities and is able to provide up to the minute information about any pupil through a teacher activated speech based interface or through a software application. Teachers can also ask their AI assistant to identify an appropriate tutoring application, like those built by Carnegie Learning described at the start of this paper, for a group of students who need particular support with an area of the curriculum. The AI assistant can search for resources or media to meet the teacher’s requirements for the day, or it can identify and contact local entrepreneurs who are willing to come and talk to pupils about future work opportunities or how to be an entrepreneur. The possibilities for the AI assistant are vast and encompass all the routine, data intensive, time consuming activities that are essential to the smooth running of the classroom, but that don’t need the expertise of a human teacher. This allows the teacher to focus on the process of teaching and learning ensuring that all pupils benefit from the unique human skills involved in effective intersubjective teaching and learning interactions.
There are more than thirty years of research on AI for education that demonstrate that we can use AI to make teaching more effective and more economical by augmenting teachers with AI systems so that human teachers can concentrate on the teaching activities that require the general and specialist intelligence that AI does not (yet?) have. The outputs from this research are now required to build the AI teaching assistants that schools and universities need, such as that described here. We have the technology know how, we now need the initiative to make such assistants a reality. This initiative would need to engage educators across the sectors to help ensure that the capabilities of AI assistants address the requirements of their teaching realities.
Education about AI
There are three key elements that need to be introduced into the curriculum at different stages of education from early years through to adult education and beyond if we are to prepare people to gain the greatest benefit from what AI has to offer:
- Everyone needs to understand enough about AI to be able to work with AI systems effectively so that AI and Human I (HI) augment each other and we benefit from a symbiotic relationship between the two. For example, people need to understand that AI is as much about the key specification of a particular problem and the careful design of a solution as it is about the selection of particular AI methods and technologies to use as part of that problem’s solution;
- Everyone needs to be involved in a discussion about what AI should and should not be designed to do. Some people need to be trained to tackle the ethics of AI in depth and help decision makers to make appropriate decisions about how AI is going to impact on the world;
- Some people also need to know enough about AI to build the next generation of AI systems that will deliver the potential benefits.
The significant educational Implications that AI brings to society, both when AI is viewed as a tool to enhance teaching and learning and when AI is viewed as a subject that must be addressed in the curriculum, make clear that teacher training and teacher CPD must be reviewed and updated in the near future. If teachers are to prepare young people for the new world of work, and if teachers are to prime and excite young people to engage with careers designing and building our future AI ecosystems, then someone must train the teachers and trainers and prepare them for their future workplace and its students’ needs. This is a role for policy makers, in collaboration with the organisations who govern and manage the different teacher development systems and training protocols across countries. If the need for young people to be equipped with a knowledge about AI is urgent, then the need for educators to be similarly equipped is critical and imperative.
On a more positive note, the development of AI teaching assistants will provide an opportunity for developing deeper teaching skills and enriching the teaching profession. This deepening of teacher expertise might be at the subject knowledge level, or it could be concerned with developing the requisite skills to support and nurture collaborative problem solving in our students. It could also result in teachers developing the data science and learning science skills that enable them to gain greater insights from the increasingly available array of data about students’ learning.
AI has the potential to bring about enormous beneficial change in education, but only if we use our Human Intelligence to design the best solutions to the most pressing educational problems.