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Is Artificial Intelligence the best sidekick for teachers?

This post has been updated on October 23 2018.

I have a riddle for you:

What do Sancho Panza, Dr. Watson, Robin and Artificial Intelligence all have in common?

Well, they all came to existence thanks to the creative minds of people, right?

OK, what else?

The real answer to this question is that they are all sidekicks. The first three are really famous ones, but AI is rather new to this game, so give it a little time, will you?

Sancho Panza is Don Quixote's sidekick. He obediently follows his master in his crazy adventures and helps Quixote get out of trouble many times along their journey.

Dr. Watson is Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick. He is the friend, assistant and sometimes flatmate of the eccentric detective. He is astute, although he can never match Sherlock’s deductive skills.

Robin is Batman’s sidekick. He is the junior counterpart of the superpower-less superhero. During their alliance he learns how to fight villains by using his intellect, detective skills, science and technology.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is teachers’ sidekick. Now re-read the previous three paragraphs and replace “Sancho Panza”, “Doctor Watson” and “Robin” with AI, and “Don Quixote”, “Sherlock Holmes” and “Batman” with teachers.

Just like the above heroes count on their sidekicks to achieve their goals, teachers can count on AI to support their instruction in the most effective way possible. AI is simply the perfect TA.

Why is that? Because, as a sidekick, AI can do some things that teachers can’t, or are oblivious to. This is what made the above pairs so successful and famous, and this is what will make the partnership between teachers and AI successful as well.

4 Things AI does that teachers can’t

The use of technology and Artificial Intelligence for school instruction will revolutionize the education system.

More and more schools are now using learning management systems to deliver learning materials to students, keep track of their progress and enhance collaboration. These systems gather tons of learning data for each student.

But huge amounts of data alone aren’t enough for teachers to be able to provide personalized instruction for each students in their class. And this is where AI steps in.

LMS vendors are constantly working to improve their products and develop smart algorithms that will be able to automatically review a student’s test results, accurately predict their learning style and recommend class exercises or other online learning activities based on that. Artificial Intelligence stands at the foundation of adaptive and predictive learning.

AI learns about the student as the student learns, and it does so in a very different way than teachers. Without further ado, here are four things AI can do that teachers and their human brains simply can’t.

  1. AI works non-stop

    Algorithms don’t have to deal with a work-life balance, they don’t need vacation days, not medical leave. They never get tired and they never get bored, not even when they’re parsing insane amounts of data all day every day. Oh, and they don’t need to sleep either.

    Algorithms basically work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

    Teachers, on the other hand — as wonderful creatures as they are — need to take a break from teaching from time to time. They get tired, they catch a cold, they need to sleep. They need to walk their dogs, have a bath, and simply be part of their families.

    Before they are teachers, teachers are human beings.

    Every time a teacher needs to focus on being human, they can count on AI to do the automatic part of their job: to parse, sort, analyze and deliver reports of students’ learning data. So when they get back to focusing on being teachers again, they’ll be able to adapt and deliver the best instruction to their students.

  2. AI never forgets

    Just like the elephants. Or maybe even better.

    Once they are developed and set, algorithms simply run. They don’t get distracted when running and they don’t forget to perform something because they didn’t see it hidden in between parenthesis. They always do the same thing the exact same way. And when an error occurs, it always belongs to the people that created them in the first place.

    Teachers can’t say they can do this. They are human beings and their human brains naturally forget. This comes with the terms of use, I guess.

    Teachers can forget to bring stuff to school, to reply to emails, or to give complete feedback for a class project. And even when they don’t forget these things, they might not have enough time to do them all.

    So they can count on AI and its automatic notifications. They can set these notifications for any regular issue and they can rest assured the system will remind them to remind students yet again about the assignments due next week.

  3. AI has no bias

    An algorithm does not judge a student based on his/her name, gender, race or handwriting. An algorithm does not assume anything. The input of each student is objectively analyzed based on the same set criteria.

    Stories of teacher bias are abundant, however. Teachers of STEM subjects tend to be biased toward male students and grade girls more harshly. Also, a beautifully handwritten long essay — even if it’s not of the highest quality — may be graded the same or better than a high-quality succinct essay written with illegible handwriting. And these biases can affect teachers of all levels.

    Most of the times, teachers favor one student over another unconsciously. But they do it nonetheless. That’s why AI can save teachers a lot of trouble, by assessing student work in the most unbiased way possible.

    Of course, human bias can become part of AI, but that is a different story.

  4. AI is scalable

    Artificial Intelligence can learn much faster than people can.

    Each student is unique in terms of learning style, prior knowledge and interest in a certain subject. Given enough data, algorithms can sort out who is who and adapt to each student’s learning needs. The more the data, the more efficient the algorithm gets.

    Too much data can be a little overwhelming for teachers, especially if they have little time to address it. Creating a human connection with each student requires plenty of time from their part.

    This connection can surely be magic and rewarding, but it just can’t happen with each and every student, in a limited amount of time. K-12 teachers can reach out to most of the students in their classroom, but university professors simply can’t do this with the hundreds of students that attend their classes.

    That’s why the use of Artificial Intelligence seems so promising in education: it can be scalable.

    Algorithms can walk students through specific problems, illustrating step by step how to solve them. And they will do this every time a student needs help, whether we’re talking about a class of 15, or a class of 300 students.

Now allow me to repeat myself: Artificial Intelligence is the perfect sidekick of teachers. AI can do things that teachers can’t, like working 24/7, never forgetting anything, having no bias and being scalable. If we mix these characteristics with those of teachers, we get better instruction and more personalized learning experiences.

The partnership between teachers and AI has the potential to become at least as — or maybe even more — famous as those between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes, or Robin and Batman. Don’t you agree?

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