It goes without saying that artificial intelligence is changing the nature of industries from transportation to finance, and education is no different with the prospect of personalized learning quickly becoming a reality.
As more and more of a student’s education is experienced through a computer, data on their educational progress can be collected, leading to more personalized learning plans while assisting the teacher in identifying problem areas for students.
While artificial intelligence in education might appear unnerving for some, the benefits are too great to ignore.
The growth of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data in Education
There are few spaces in life that haven’t been touched in some form by computer software. Whether it's shopping, dating, or just keeping up with old friends, everything we do seems to be mediated in some form by computers.
It shouldn’t surprise us then that how we educate ourselves isn’t immune.
D2L, a leader in educational software, is the maker of Brightspace Insights, a suite of analytical tools for educators.
Brightspace is able to capture, aggregate, and analyze data streamed from several different sources, including learning apps, online resources, publishers, and other learning management systems to build a complete model of individual student learning behaviors.
By pulling this student data into one place, Brightspace can produce reports, predictive data analytics, and visualizations in real time that are fed into an instructor’s workflow. Over time, this can teach the teacher exactly what a student needs to succeed.
“With the previous version of our analytics product, instructors received information on learner success even before they took their first test. But it was only using data based on Brightspace tools,” says Nick Oddson, Senior Vice President of Product development for D2L.
“With the new Brightspace Insights, we can now deliver that same insight, but based on the entire ecosystem of learning tools.”
Until recently, the only way to measure student learning was through tests and assignments, but that only captures a small slice of a student’s education.
Over the course of a student’s educational career, they output an enormous amount of data in the form of papers, exams, and classroom participation that rarely carries over to the next term.
With these new tools, however, student data can be stored an analyzed over time to see what material they engage with more successfully and what educational deficits they may have hidden in their past work that might be inhibiting their future potential.
Personalized Learning: Teaching the Teachers
What all of this data represents is a roadmap for how a student learns.
By having a fuller understanding of the student on day one, educators are better positioned to utilize their training and skills to address these students’ individual needs from the start, rather than spending weeks or months identifying problems that they’d then have little time to actually address.
According to D2L President John Baker, with software like Brightspace Insights, “we’ve made it easier for instructors to predict and forecast learners at risk, to help them while they’re learning, not just by flagging issues at the end of a term.”
Meanwhile, by having all of a students' data pulled together and aggregated in advance, these learning management systems help assist the teacher in crafting personalized learning plans for students.
This system works to a student’s strengths rather than approach a classroom full of students and use one approach that works better for some while leaving others behind.
This is one of the most powerful aspects of artificial intelligence in education.
AIs and machine learning are especially good at identifying patterns that may be opaque to human eyes, so by looking at a student’s educational data, an AI can assist the teacher in identifying the ways individual students comprehend the material.
Some students thrive by reading assigned materials, while others are inhibited by a wall of text that is more readily understood when presented in a lecture form.
By identifying these trends in a student’s data, students can be presented material in a more accessible way that won’t leave them behind with a one size fits all approach, creating a personalized learning experience that can improve educational outcomes.
AI, the Ultimate Teacher Assistant
It might be tempting to think that machine learning and AI can replace classroom instructors, but that misses the essential role that artificial intelligence should play in education, and not just in developing personalized learning plans.
Machines are dreadful when it comes to tasks requiring emotional intelligence, a skill that is essential for educating a diverse student body.
Simply putting an AI in front of a classroom is a recipe for disaster as students eager to slough off work learn to game the AI, thereby ruining whatever advantage the AI brings to the wealth of educational data available to it.
Instead, the AI is meant to free the educator from the most time-consuming and monotonous tasks, such as grading exams and checking papers for plagiarism.
Any teacher will tell you how this work takes up a majority of their time, time that could be better spent using their specialized training to improve the quality of their student’s educations.
By having an AI assisting the teacher, rather than replace them, AI-enhanced education can unleash the educator to fully utilize their training in ways that simply were not possible to earlier generations of educators.
The Changing Role of the Educator
Naturally, there is some hesitancy when it comes to bringing artificial intelligence into the classroom.
Teachers over the past couple of decades have been on the receiving end of budget cuts and abuse, leading them to understandably become rather twitchy when someone comes into their classroom with the next big idea that looks an awful lot like a replacement.
But an AI isn’t anywhere close to being capable of doing a skilled educators job, much less outperforming them. Like other industries where artificial intelligence is making inroads and generating anxiety, this is largely a product of a misunderstanding of the underlying technology.
Proper introduction and teaching the teachers how to harness these new tools in the classroom can go a long way to assuaging the anxieties such technology can create.
It is vital that we begin to do so. AIs cannot and should not replace teachers, but through personalized learning programs and having AI assist the teacher by eliminating time-consuming paperwork, AIs can be a transformational and liberating innovation in education.