The use of artificial intelligence is changing lives in a multitude of ways.


As we continue to adapt as humans to available services and our willingness to adopt them increases, everyday life is being transformed through the use of AI. This is indeed altering most aspects of life including how people learn new things during their daily lives and in an education setting.

For this article, we look at the use of artificial intelligence (AI) as it relates to expected adoption and possible use within the educational establishment specifically.

Adoption of Apps & Other Tools Which Use AI

When you are running late for something, it’s handy to know what time a bus will arrive or if the local train will get there on time.

A mobile app like Moovit is capable of providing real-time travel information including bus and train schedules. These are updated frequently and use the GPS coordinates from your smartphone to match your current position to other available information.

From there, the app provides local information relevant to your location. Feeding in your intended destination filters the travel information to multiple possible routes, current arrival times of transport options suggested, and more. It’s like the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game but for transportation.

The Expectation of AI Advances from the Public

The general public has quickly gotten used to advances that have come with the aid of AI.

It now seems quite normal to expect an app to have the latest information to provide reliable directions or answer searches intelligently after verbalising a search query into your phone. This thinking extends across a broad range of fields and situations where people naturally now believe it’s possible to get better information, a higher quality of service or a personally tailored education. Indeed, there are few areas where the general public will accept that improvements aren’t possible through the use of AI.

This situation does present a problem for companies and educational organisations alike. What’s possible for organisations with revenue in the billions isn’t necessarily true of much smaller ones. There’s also the little teething problem of finding valid ways to use AI-based solutions to a problem because they will directly lead to improved outcomes and not just to be seen using AI for its own sake.

Automation of Basic Tasks is an Easy First Step

Work on natural language – the concept being to get a computer to understand the language in the same way humans do – is a work in progress. Many companies are putting considerable time, effort, and money behind it to reach a stage where queries are readily understood.

Certainly, the IBM Watson supercomputer and Google are making great strides in this area. However, for most educational establishments with fewer computing resources and less funding available, AI advancements often need to be:

Affordable

Practical to reproduce and test

Offer a real, tangible benefit


One solution is to start with basic automation to reduce the workload of teachers and other people working in the education field. An obvious initial approach is with online tests provided in a multiple-choice question and answer format where there’s a limited result set, e.g. answers can only be 1, 2 or 3, and don’t ever fall outside of these parameters.

For teachers, having to mark and total up test results is often done unpaid out of hours. Many teachers have to take the marking home to do it in between personal tasks like talking to their children or other activities that they’d rather give their full attention to. Automating the process reduces their burden considerably.

Reduce Errors and Make Teachers’ Lives Better

Continuing the example of marking papers, online tests with forms that are programmed to only accept a limited set of answers can prevent mistakes or errors of omission by students. This avoids tests having to be rejected outright or sent back and reviewed again later.

Reducing the After-hours Burden on Teachers

Teachers not having to mark papers late into the evening and on weekends when they should be recovering from the working week avoids unforced errors creeping in. Also, it allows them to come back to the educational establishment more refreshed the next week because some of the more mundane tasks have been removed from their lives.

Increased Accuracy of Results

The results of these types of multiple-choice tests are accurately tallied up and listed for review.

Additionally, past results and an overall grade based on all previous test results can be updated and provided to the teacher.

Triggered Responses

With students who have either performed below a set level on the test or whose overall class grade has fallen below an acceptable level, the AI can add an appointment in the teacher’s calendar to meet this student personally to discuss the matter.

The appointment can be based on the teacher’s working hours and the current class schedule of both the teacher and the student. The setting of the appointment can trigger a notification to the student and the teacher about the upcoming meeting too.

Natural Language Progression and the Possibilities of It

The idea with natural language is to understand what humans are asking either when they type or speak a query to a search engine.

Educational establishments can adopt this technology to answer common student queries. The AI essentially has what amounts to a knowledge base which is referenced to answer the query once natural language technologies have made the query understood. And that’s the snag.

The context and meaning behind a question are often relevant and change both the intention behind the query and what type of answer is expected. Even the search giant, Google, has struggled over the last few years to better understand the intent behind a searcher’s question to provide the best or right answer for each query.

However, the good news is that investment in AI for education is increasing globally. Whether looking at the UK, the USA, China or elsewhere around the globe, the total amount being invested is in the billions and shortly may become tens of billions. The Holon IQ 2019 Artificial Intelligence & Global Education Report did confirm that developed countries are lagging slightly behind China in the total invested in education-oriented AI projects.

Is It Better for Educators?

One way that educators can benefit directly from AI is in how it can be used when approaching classroom lessons and addressing knowledge gaps.

An AI program can break a subject matter down into critical points that must be understood. Thus, with a mathematics problem, learning Pythagoras’ Theorem fully may require breaking it down into individual steps which each must be readily understood. Using this system, each student’s answer can be analysed to confirm what steps they are clear about and those causing confusion.

For teachers, this gives them a place to start with one-on-one tuition. However, creating individual mini lessons provides students with simple explanations to get them past any mental blocks. This way, they can progress to clear the other steps they’re unsure about until they have fully grasped Pythagoras’ Theorem. This frees up educators to focus on students who require personal attention when the pre-planned mini lessons aren’t working for them.

Personalisation is Easier to Provide Too

When AI removes some of the heavy lifting from skilled educators, they have more time and energy available for lecturing and teaching harder-to-reach students. It also lends itself well to a personalisation of the educational experience for students too.

In a culture where people have come to expect everything to be their way, not a set way, personalised education is likely to be increasingly popular. For instance, a custom lesson plan through a series of selected, pre-recorded lectures instead of a fixed lesson plan provides greater flexibility for students’ schedules.

For an educator to get the most from the changes, it helps to be equipped with the latest thinking and methodologies on how best to educate students. Studying for an MA in Education from an institution like the University of Exeter Online is one way to gain this greater understanding which can be then be applied both in the classroom and with online classes too. A highly qualified educator can create an adaptable course structure to offer copious customisation options while not taking anything away from the experience or expected final outcome.

In Conclusion

As daily life has been evolving in subtle and not so subtle ways as a result of the use of AI technologies, the public at large has accepted its usage. Despite the early predictions that artificial intelligence was a huge risk, it’s being used in productive ways that make life better for people in many fields, including education.

While it may never remove tasks that require the human touch – like final scores on a submitted dissertation, one-on-one teaching to aid a student at risk of falling behind, or making a personal connection between the faculty and the student body – there are plenty of real-world applications where AI is genuinely useful. When applying AI judiciously and with due care, educational establishments can benefit from its introduction and careful implementation on a selective basis where a clear benefit will be derived, and the students are considered too.    

By Ed