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Should the question “Will AI replace teachers?” really be asked?

Umm… No. I really think it shouldn’t.

So if you just clicked on the headline looking for a short Yes or No answer, I just gave it to you. You’re welcome. However, if you have a few minutes to spare and care to know the reasons behind my very short answer, keep scrolling. I only have two of them. But they’re big.

1. This question feeds the fear monster

We all have a fear monster. We humans all suffer from the superiority syndrome. We actually believe that we’re better and smarter than any other species on this planet and nothing can contradict us at the moment. But what if we create something that is better and smarter than us? That’s probably the core of humanity’s fear monster.

The thought of a machine capable of learning is indeed scary. You may remember some headlines a while ago about Facebook shutting down its AI program after it has invented its own language. If that didn’t poke our fear monster, I don’t know what did. But things were not that grim.

Turning our attention to education, what if a machine that runs an artificially intelligent software would teach our children how to read, count and write? What if such a machine would assess the learning progress of students and then be able to decide what one student or another should learn next?

Will teachers be made redundant by AI technology? That’s probably the core of teachers’ fear monster and the reason why the question in the title is thrown in so many conversations.

But let’s think about this from a different perspective, shall we?

Reading Trainer improves the reading speed and retention rates of students using it. iWriteWords teaches kids to write. PhotoMath helps students understand mathematics and solves even handwritten math problems. These three are educational apps. Then, there are search engines, learning management systems and other cloud-hosted teaching tools.

Read more: Top 7 education apps for the classroom

All these are examples of AI technology and plenty of teachers already use them in their educational activities. The degree of Artificial Intelligence varies in all of them, but it exists nonetheless.

Are teachers redundant in any of these cases? No, they’re absolutely not. They’re the masterminds that know how and when to use these AI tools in the learning process of their students. The tool can’t replace the mastermind.

Now let’s move on to the second reason.

2. It misses the mark on the AI potential in education

If people didn’t overcome their fear of interacting with an intelligent machine to get some money out of the bank we would still stand in line for who knows how long (during public hours, of course) to be handed some cash from our own bank accounts. I’m talking, of course, about how natural an action is for us to use an ATM to get our money nowadays.

I hate to break it to you, but an ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) is an artificially intelligent machine which revolutionized the banking system. Thanks to it there are now more bank branches and more tellers than they were when ATMs started to pop up in our cities. People working in a bank now do more complex jobs than handing out some cash. Automation actually expanded and embettered the financial market.

AI has the potential to do the same in education.

Just think about the possibilities. If teachers could delegate the most repetitive and time-consuming tasks to AI they would get more time to actually teach! There are many ways and many ideas on how to improve our education system but teachers are caught in their day to day activities and they hardly have any time to be innovative on a large scale.

If an artificially intelligent machine or software could help them with that, then why shouldn’t it? It’s not like we have to automate everything a teacher does in the classroom. And it’s not like the teacher will completely disappear from an educational setting and not oversee what AI does.

Here are some ways AI could support the work of teachers:

Lesson planning. This is one of the most time-consuming thing teachers have to do. By using AI technology they will be able to input all the learning materials they have on their subject matter — old lesson plans, text documents, PDFs, videos, audio files, images, animations, presentations, you name it. The software will parse, analyze and sort this input and automatically create lesson outlines. Teachers will have to review and add changes to the plans but they won’t have to create them from scratch every time.

Adaptive learning. This takes personalized learning on a deeper level. An adaptive learning system learns about the student while the student learns. And it does so with every student in the classroom, no matter if it’s a 15-student primary group or a 300-student college class. Based on all the learning data it gathers in real time, such a system can adapt to each student’s needs and suggest personalized next steps in each of their learning processes. AI will therefore assist teachers in adapting their instruction for meeting all their students’ needs, thus educating everyone in a unique manner.

Student support. I have two words for you: Jill Watson. In case you haven’t heard about her, Jill is a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech University. She is also an AI software. Jill answered many of the 10,000 online messages from 300 or so students enrolled in the same course about… you guessed it… Artificial Intelligence. And she (it?) did that with 97% accuracy, becoming the most efficient TA for that course. If one AI software eliminated a lot of tedious work for the actual professor and his teaching assistants, allowing them to tackle more complex and technical issues, am I wrong to think that more such software could do the same for more teachers?

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 Artificial Intelligence can make things easier for them. All STEM subjects are rather easy to automate and even creative ones — like literature or foreign language learning — can be graded by intelligent mechanisms. 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 AI in education will pave the way to numerous possibilities. Planning courses, delivering adaptive learning, supporting students with their queries, and assessing papers are just a few examples of how useful AI can be for the average teacher. If educators are able to delegate their repetitive and most time-consuming tasks to intelligent technology, they’ll focus more on other more complex or creative problems and build better interpersonal relationships with their students.

So, if we think about Artificial Intelligence as a sidekick for teachers instead of their replacement, the question “Will AI replace teachers?” should have no place in any conversation about education.

How to easily boost student achievement using AI

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