The future of education is intrinsically linked with developments in new technologies and the computing capacities of the new intelligent machines. In this field, advances in artificial intelligence open up new possibilities and challenges for teaching and learning in education, with the potential for significant changes in the governance and the internal architecture of educational institutions.
Artificial Intelligence will play an important role in providing personalized learning, the ability to tailor instructional content and learning to the specific need of each student. The ability to collect data from multiple sources, the query that data, and obtain information through tools such as predictive analytics and machine learning is what makes AI such an exciting advancement in education technology and why its use will prove transformational for all stakeholders, from individual students to Ministries of Education.
Students and teachers are facing a world of constant, ever-accelerating change. Those now exiting secondary school for the world of work or further study in developed countries have never known a world without the ubiquity of the internet and the mobile phone. Although the first commercially-available mobile phone only appeared in 1985, by 1999 one phone was being sold in the United Kingdom every four seconds, and by 2004 when these students were in grade 2 or 3 there were more mobile phones than people in the UK. The disparity between the developed and developing world in terms of access to the internet and smart devices was immediately recognized as a ‘Digital Divide’; and as technology entered the classroom in schools where the socio-economic conditions allowed for such investments, fears were expressed that disadvantaged students of all nationalities would be left behind. Conversely, many people held that access to technology and low-cost mobile devices could help close the educational gap caused by failures of the formal education system and connect those who had left school or never had the opportunity to attend a classroom to rich educational experiences which could address foundational issues such as the global challenge of illiteracy. In the event, the introduction of devices into the classroom did not bring about a commensurate improvement in exam grades though it did help to enable new pedagogical modalities such as the flipped classroom, and illiteracy rates remained virtually unchanged. The role of the teacher has been proven paramount, along with the need for adequate professional development support which incorporates the building of digital skills. Far from technology replacing teachers, the role of the teacher is now recognized as the most important factor in unlocking the potential of technology to advance teaching and learning. In concert with the emergence of these new technologies was a focus upon what was termed ‘21st-century skills. Knowledge acquisition was relegated in importance, and the ability to work in teams, collaborate and communicate effectively, and develop analytical and digital skills to better prepare students for the world they would face upon leaving school assumed primacy in curricular and pedagogical design. Learning how to learn and the importance of lifelong learning were regarded as intrinsically linked to the acquisition of digital skills and experience in the use of basic technologies.
In an educational context, perhaps the best way to view Artificial Intelligence is to view it as Augmented Intelligence. The application of AI provides all stakeholders with additional information and with insights that can better inform decisions. Below are a number of the data points which need to be considered by key stakeholders:
Students: Individual students need help to identify areas in their learning pathways where they need additional support or guidance, or where they require an increased focus in their studies
Educators: A typical primary-school teacher can have between 20-30 students in a class. To measure progress against all of the core success metrics outlined in Stage 1 of the data journey above for each student in a class of 30 students would require them to track progress against 390 different data points. For a secondary school teacher, who might teach 6 or more groups of students in different grades or age groups, the challenge is exponentially greater. (It is a measure of the extraordinary dedication and skill that teachers as a profession display that they undertake to do this to the best of their abilities in service of their students and the student’s families.) A professor or dean of faculty at a university may have an even larger cohort of students, and for all educators, the student cohort will typically change on an annual or more frequent basis.
School Leaders: To manage an academic institution or to lead change, a school leader in K-12, Further Education or Higher Education needs to consider a vast range of factors and data points. In addition to student-centric data, he or she must consider staffing issues; financial and infrastructural management issues; matters relating to policy, governance, and oversight; privacy, health and safety concerns, etc.
Curriculum Designers: Those tasked with designing curriculum at an institutional, regional or national level need to consider information from a variety of sources, including the academic, the vocational, and the societal, in order to ensure that evolving curricula can meet the current and future needs of students, and will adequately prepare them for the world they will face on leaving school. A curriculum based solely upon historic data, referencing a limited number of sources, cannot hope to meet future needs.
Having access to all of the relevant and available data is not sufficient. None of these challenges can be met with data alone. It is the ability of Artificial Intelligence to make connections across these different data points of future outcomes in order to enable course corrections in near-real-time and to derive insights that will allow all stakeholders to make more informed decisions that constitute its power and its promise. AI is a part of our daily life. The fact of the matter is that AI does not take away, in way, shape, or form, from the classroom. Rather it makes the classroom experience a lot better than before. AI also improves both – Teaching and Learning.