Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are having a profound effect on the everyday lives of many, changing how people shop, interact with organisations and plan their time.
From a marketing perspective, I have been watching with great interest as the use of chatbots automate brand conversations and virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home Mini respond to their owners’ beck and calls through voice recognition.
I have recently returned from a conference in Portugal that focused on computer supported education and learned about three key ways that AI and automation are impacting the education sector.
1. AI Teaching Assistants
Chatbots are now being used to ease the load of academics by answering student queries and contributing to online class discussions. Georgia Tech has been using Ian and Stacy (AI Teaching Assistants) for the last two years, and many students cannot tell the difference between the chatbots and human academic staff.
“At the end of the term, the students were polled about who was human and what was AI. Slightly more than 50 percent of the students correctly guessed that Stacy was a computer. Sixteen percent figured out that Ian wasn’t human. On the other hand, more than 10 percent mistakenly thought two of the human TAs weren’t real.”
The use of AI Teaching Assistants at Georgia Tech has resulted in an increase in student engagement throughout the course, because the AI Teaching Assistants are able to respond to queries much faster than their human counterparts.
There is also discussion of one day being able to download AI Teaching Assistants for specific courses to a student’s personal virtual assistant, so Alexa would be able to help with a student’s history essay while ordering them a pizza.
As an academic, I can definitely see the benefits of using AI in a course with a large student cohort. Yet, even though I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of student queries that I receive (at all times of the day and night), I would miss having the opportunity to get to know students through these interactions if an AI Teaching Assistant took over completely. Working with students is why I love teaching so much. However, the student experience must be the priority, and if AI enhances the learning journey for students, I would support it 100%.
2. Automated Essay Evaluation
Marking assessments can be one of the most laborious tasks for academics. It usually involves late nights and weekend work to ensure that assignments are returned to students in a timely manner.
However, PhD student, Tsegaye Misikir from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary is hoping to change that by developing an Automated Essay Evaluation (AEE) system that not only assesses and scores essays, but “…saves time effort and money without lowering the quality of goals and objectives of educational assessment”.
Basically, the academic provides a sample of a high quality essay and the system marks students’ submissions against that standard.
AEE is not new, but previous systems have had issues with accurately recognizing semantics and syntax. Misikir’s system addresses these challenges through the use of Word Mover’s Distance and Neural Word Embedding, and his experimental results are demonstrating a higher level of accuracy than existing AEE systems.
The fantasy is appealing of being able to enjoy my weekends during assessment time. However, I would feel guilty about not taking the time to read my students’ work, particularly if they had put an extensive amount of effort into it.
My biggest concern with this method of AEE is possibly missing out on seeing when a student completely surpasses what is expected and knocks their assessment out of the park.
There is nothing more exciting for a teacher to see, than their student taking what they have learned to a whole new level. If an AEE system could identify when an assessment is of a higher standard than the baseline example, then it would definitely be more conducive to an educational environment.
3. Intelligent Adaptive Learning Systems
China’s, Yixue Education, is an online learning system that is customized to the user’s level of knowledge. Through AI, the system can detect a learner’s weaknesses and tailors a learning journey that will strengthen those areas.
Currently, the system is being used for primary and secondary school students and has proven to be highly successful in preparing students for university entrance exams. In a competition between the Yixue system and human teachers, each with an average of 17 years’ teaching experience, the AI system improved test scores more than their human counterparts.
Instead of expecting students to adapt to the educational system, Yixue is completely customized to the student in terms of its curriculum, content, assessment and instruction, resulting in the student reaching their learning objectives faster and in a manner of most relevance to them.
I wish I could provide a customized learning experience to every student, but unfortunately academics are usually constrained by time and resources. We must deliver course content in a particular order and students must complete the same assessments at the same time for the semester to run smoothly within the traditional university system.
An intelligent adaptive learning system has proven to be an effective tool in ROTE learning for the preparation of exams, but it will be interesting to see how it will extend to other types of learning and critical analyses in a higher educational environment.
AI and automation are influencing many industry sectors including education. While I have shared three key ways that AI and automation are impacting the education sector, there must be many other examples.
While it is exciting to think about the ways AI and automation will improve the student experience and academic workloads, it will be a long time before human interaction in the educational process is completely replaced by technology.
How do you feel about the ways that AI and automation are influencing education?