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4 Ways AI will be a great teaching assistant

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has stopped being just a thing of Sci-Fi novels and movies. From self-driving cars and grocery shopping without cash registers (Amazon Go), to algorithms that detect diseases and speech recognition that allows us to have conversations with robots (Apple’s Siri, for example) artificial intelligence is everywhere.

It’s slowly but surely creeping into all aspects of our daily lives. And the near future will have more and more of it.

Perhaps AI is not spread into education as much as it is in other fields, but this doesn’t mean the future's not bright. A flower that blooms later can become as beautiful — if not even more beautiful — than the others.

The applications of AI in education are incredibly various, and will definitely transform how teachers teach and how students learn today.

4 Ways AI will be a great teaching assistant

In a previous post about whether or not artificial intelligence will replace teachers (it won’t) I actually stated that AI will probably become the best teaching assistant ever.

This post will go a little deeper into this idea, showcasing four practical ways artificial intelligence will support the wonderful work of teachers. All four of them involve some level of automation, which means they free up some time for teachers to spend focusing on other, more meaningful tasks.

Let’s dive in!

  1. Planning courses

    This is a core thing that teachers do. Since it’s a core thing to teaching, it takes a lot of time to be done right. In fact, it can take so much time to plan courses right that if teachers were to focus only on planning they wouldn’t have any time left for actually teaching courses.

    Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but if you are a teacher, work with teachers, or love a teacher, you know how time-consuming planning courses can be.

    AI will give teachers the possibility to plan courses in a period of time more like an instant and less like an eternity. And do it right.

    By using technology — maybe an LMS, maybe some other sort of software — teachers will be able to input all the base materials they have on their subject matter. I’m talking about all text documents, PDFs, videos, audio files, images, animations, presentations, and any other type of teaching materials.

    Then, the software will parse, analyze and sort this input, maybe even curate already available online content relevant to the subject matter but not included in the input, and automatically create online courses.

    So teachers will only have to review the planned courses and tweak them here and there, if necessary.

  2. Delivering adaptive learning

    Adaptive learning takes personalized learning on a deeper level. The best learning experience for a student is not only customized based on his/her specific learning needs, prior knowledge and interests, but it constantly adapts to these variables as the student goes through the learning materials.

    No human teacher can do this well with 30 students in a classroom. Not even with ten. And if we think about higher education, with a few hundred students enrolled in the same course, the idea of adaptive learning seems downright impossible.

    But artificial intelligence will assist teachers in adapting their instruction for meeting all their students’ needs, thus educating everyone in a unique manner.

    Some students are great at History, are natural with learning Foreign Languages and do well with Math, but they need a little more time than others to understand Chemistry. If they don’t fully understand the basics of Chemistry they won’t understand its advanced levels either. And you can replace Chemistry with any other subject, for that matter.

    With the help of artificial intelligence, teachers will be able to keep an eye on every single student, intervene whenever one struggles, and offer spot-on feedback and support.

    What’s more, AI proves to be great in terms of spaced practice.

    I’m currently learning Spanish on Duolingo. My jaw literally dropped when I first saw my Words statistics. I have learned thousands of Spanish words already, and for each of these words my profile has a strength bar; when it’s half full, it’s time for me to practice that word, so I’ll get it in the next lesson, or the one that follows.

    None of my foreign language teachers could keep track of all the words I learned in the new language, nor when was the right time to practice them. Duolingo does. It’s not magic. It’s artificial intelligence.

  3. Supporting students

    During their learning process, students have lots of questions. They’re supposed to have questions; that’s how they learn. The more the students, the higher the number of questions.

    And they also need answers to these questions to go on with their learning. But it’s really hard for teachers and teaching assistants to give feedback to each student in a timely manner. It can pass days or maybe even weeks until a student gets a reply, based on the complexity of his/her question.

    Artificial intelligence can do student support easily, and it can reply to student queries within minutes.

    “One of the secrets of online classes is that the number of questions increases if you have more students, but the number of different questions doesn’t really go up.” says Professor Ashok Goel from Georgia Tech University.

    Professor Goel is famous for “recruiting” Jill Watson as a teaching assistant for his course on Artificial Intelligence. Jill is actually a software, answering many of the 10,000 online messages from Goel’s 300 or so students, with 97% accuracy. Some students sniffed Jill's robotic touch, but many didn’t realize their most efficient teaching assistant was in fact a bot.

    The bottom line is that the artificially intelligent Jill eliminated a lot of the tedious work Goel and his eight human teaching assistants do, allowing them to tackle more complex and technical issues.

  4. Assessing papers

    This is another time-consuming task that educators have to do, no matter if their students are in the first grade or in the senior year of college. And they’re not skipping around with joy when they have to grade tens or hundreds of papers.

    Artificial intelligence can give teachers a helping hand with students assessment as well.

    All STEM subjects are obviously easy to automate. Maybe 5+5+5 is different than 3+3+3+3+3, but they both represent the result of 5x3, which is 15. This, of course, is an overly simplistic example, but a software similar to the above-mentioned Jill can learn all the ways to reach a math result (and the corresponding steps to it) and assess papers correctly.

    What’s more, even subjects like literature and foreign languages can be graded by artificially intelligent machines. Students’ creative writing pieces can already be checked against plagiarism, and some teachers also use automated essay marking. These programs can be trained to recognize fragments of already-published works, as well as a number of criteria that teachers use when assessing essays.

    Of course, more work is needed to reach 100% accuracy to automated student assessment, but AI technology is constantly evolving, and soon this downsize won’t exist anymore.

Final thoughts

The use of artificial intelligence in education will open doors to numerous possibilities. Planning courses, delivering adaptive learning, supporting students with their queries, and assessing papers are just a few examples of how practical AI can be.

When teachers are free of their most tedious and time-consuming tasks, they can focus on more complex problems that better assist their students. After all, the final goal of education is to help students learn.

What’s your stance on the use of AI in education? Do share your thoughts in the comments section.

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