As AI (artificial intelligence) take over many aspects of our lives, people are wonder about the role of machine learning in education. The classroom is no stranger to online teaching and adaptive software and this trend is speeding up as a result of the coronavirus. With schools closing down and universities moving exclusively into remote learning, teachers and professors, as well as pupils and students, have found themselves working in completely new environments.
We are now living in a world in which bots are beginning to do many of the jobs we once thought were only designed for humans. The future is upon us and we have decisions to make about the role and place of AI and bots in our classrooms.
Some things just can’t be automated
This post from Andre Perry posits that computers aren’t capable of the higher-order thinking that teachers can provide. Perry argues that teaching will remain in the hands of humans since instructors that engage with students can’t easily be replaced.
The future will leave room for human teachers. The future of work is parlance that describes all the discussions on the potential impact that artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will have on jobs, skills, and wages…
You’d assume that the stress on computer literacy skills as an essential part of the 21st century workforce would make interacting with AI all the more necessary. You might also assume that the endless bounty of knowledge computers can store would render the limited ability of the human mind somewhat obsolete. And yet, for some reason, students generally are not responding to AI teaching resources in quite the same way.
Part of this is that we often underestimate the importance of empathy in the learning process. Don’t. Even as technology advances, we often lose sight of the magic that occurs in the learning experience. This interpersonal connection continues to be a limitation as we look for opportunities to utilize AI in learning situations.
A true teacher does not just impart facts; she or he creates a thirst for knowledge and teaches students how to quench that thirst.
Part of this also involves the soft skills involved in learning and cognition. These include creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. Social skills, healthy skepticism, flexibility, and persistence are necessary in a world that involves robots.
Does this mean automation within schools has limitations? How can we make sure the personal touches of teaching continue to show value?
Guide On The Side
When robots are mentioned, the image of a human-like automoton can come to mind. Given that teaching is already being augmented by AI (artificial intelligence) systems (such as automated feedback or grading), then the question might be changing to how best can education be augmented by AI.
Some say that machine learning can never replace teachers, but perhaps bots could serve as a teacher’s assistant (TA), thereby easing the teacher’s workload.
This is one of the takeaways I had from the Friedman book, Thank You For Being Late. We will (are experiencing) digital disruption and displacement. There will be “robots” of all kinds in the future. The key will be developing individuals that can work with the robots, not be replaced by them.
Imagine a future of AI in the classroom where a bot that floats in the physical or online classroom could answer some of the important, content questions that come with a particular assignment. Robots could be programmed to monitor clerical work like collecting assignments, alerting parents and guardians of missing work, facilitating hall passes, and supplying assessment data in easy-to-read formats.
AI TAs could work separately with struggling students to scaffold content and build skills. They could be programmed to be receptive to individual learners and provide supports adapted to each student’s individual learning style. Human teachers would need to continue to be involved in this interaction as educators build toward automaticity, and encourage students to think for themselves. AI by itself cannot make this happen…at this point.
Used in concert with a human educator, the AI TA could free up attention for the teacher to spend the time connecting, mentoring, and guiding learners. Education is not just about the dispensing and acquisition of knowledge, it is about relationships and connections in the learning space.