Artificial Intelligence in education is continuing to gather momentum. So much so that Microsoft Australia has recently launched its own specialist podcast on the subject.
First appearing in podcast stores on the 25th September, ‘AI in Education’ featured 30 minutes of light-hearted discussion on the meaning of AI and the role it can play in teaching students around the world. Each week will bring more conversation surrounding a different application of technology and different scenarios.
Does this mean that AI will soon permeate classrooms worldwide? And should we be concerned about the implementation of this technology in such an important field?
The reality is that AI has already arrived, and is actively helping students of varying age ranges today in the form of dedicated chatbots and helping tutors with administrative tasks. Those worried about the use of robotic measures in the education sector can find assurances from IEAIED (the Institute for Ethical AI in Education), the founders of which recently explained to The Guardian that “we must inform the public at large about AI – what it is and what benefits can be derived from its use – or we risk alienating people from the technology that already forms part of their everyday lives. Worse still, we risk causing alarm and making them fearful.”
There are also real-world examples of what we can expect in the not-too-distant future of AI in education available today too. Dmitry Peskov founded the Russian-based University 20.35 project as a means of implementing AI into higher education within a remote learning institution.
“When we started dealing with this challenge,” Peskov explains, “we saw that educational programs in traditional universities and the teaching methods applied therein didn’t correspond to the needs of either private companies or the state. Everything is changing very quickly, new specialisations are appearing, and the requirements for traditional ones are constantly expanding.
We realised that we need a flexible, digital data-driven educational platform where everything would be personalised as much as possible through the use of AI. University 20.35 was established as a result.”
Educational AI in the next decade
University 20.35 is an ambitious project that aims to ultimately welcome a virtually unlimited number of remote students that will have their own tailor-fitted educational program that AI determines will suit their respective skillsets and aptitude for learning.
Successful early testing for University 20.35 has already taken place through the medium of Peskov’s ‘Island’ intensive training courses. Peskov explains that “the first intensive course, Island 10-21, was held back in 2018. Leading Russian IT experts and digitalisation enthusiasts took part in it. More than 1000 people in total.
Back then, we first tested our AI on such a large number of people. The second intensive course, Island 10-22, was held this summer at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, where we assembled 1,500 people.”
Essentially, the Island training programs were formulated as an active road test for the kind of technology that Peskov envisions for University 20.35: “The main task was to select teams from 100 Russian universities and teach them new educational technologies. After the training, these teams would carry out digital transformation in their universities and implement the technologies and techniques we have developed.”
Semantic analysis and capturing our digital footprints
Among the cutting edge AI on show at Island 10-22, the implementation of semantic analysis for participants’ speech was among the most impressive.
Is there a way to analyse participants’ speech?
“With the help of semantic analysis, we first looked at how the participants’ thinking changed as they progressed through the intensive course. Semantic analysis also allows us to determine how well the material is learned by comparing the lecturer’s speech and the participants’ conversation. In addition, we can determine the emotional mood of the participants and their reactions to certain activities from their speech.” said Peskov.
The level of analysis that AI is capable of conducting may seem a little daunting, but the value it holds in ensuring that all students have the chance to learn at a rate that best suits their skillsets and learning speed cannot be underestimated.
People are different, can have varying preferred methods when it comes to learning. University 20.35 sets about gaining a comprehensive understanding of each enrolled student by creating a personalised digital footprint for everyone.
What were the conclusions of the ‘Island’ in terms of collecting a digital footprint?
“The analysis is still ongoing. Of course, we made many interesting observations. For example, we got pretty interesting statistics that show how the participants of the Island followed the recommendations of artificial intelligence. Interestingly, the number of people who claimed to be smarter than the artificial intelligence and did not follow its recommendations decreased over time, and, in reality, more and more people followed the recommendations.” said Dmitry.
Digital footprints are formed based on AI and machine learning insights into a student’s educational and employment history, and constantly adapts recalibrates based on their submissions throughout the course.
Dmitry Peskov believes that the presence of AI in education will pave the way for the gamification of learning - where tasks can essentially be much more immersive and collaborative for students.
How many different simulators can be prepared?
“Gamification in education will only increase. For example, at Island of 10-22, we first experienced an interesting command simulator called Spacecraft. Each participant received a role on a simulated spaceship and we evaluated the actions of each crew member and the team as a whole.
We watched how in a training game the team took advantage of emerging opportunities and reacted in crisis situations. During the intensive course, the team passed this simulator several times, constantly changing roles. As a result, we looked at the progress and determined the strengths of each participant,” Peskov stated.
Learning from robots
Artificial Intelligence has the potential to leverage the biggest transformation in how we approach Higher Education since the advent of the internet. But that’s not to say that the technology will loom over us.
At Staffordshire University, students are already reaping the benefits of having ‘Beacon’ on hand, ready to assist whenever needed.
Beacon is the university’s dedicated chatbot, responsive enough to offer personalised information pertaining to each student’s timetables and their personal tutors while providing intuitive answers to over 400 frequently asked questions.
Chatbots are one of the early successes of AI within education, offering instant support around the clock, where designated tutors may be otherwise offline.
When it comes to the implementation of AI and machine learning within educational environments, the IEAIED believes that there are far too many benefits for us to stay fearful of such technology:
“There are highly beneficial applications of machine learning. In education, for example, this innovation will enable personalised learning for all and is already enabling individualised learning support for increasing numbers of students.
Well-designed AI can be used to identify learners’ particular needs so that everyone – especially the most vulnerable – can receive targeted support. Given the magnitude of what people have to gain from machine learning tools, we feel an obligation to mitigate and counteract the inherent risks so that the best possible outcomes can be realised,” explained IEAIED founders, Prof. Rose Luckin, Sir Anthony Seldon and Priya Lakhani in an open letter to The Guardian.