Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a hot topic in recent years thanks to its versatile applications, one of which is its ability to act as an educator for future generations.
By Adrian Leung, Genevieve Lai, Paris Yip and Catherine Ng
As advancement in AI solutions expands and accelerates, AI will be more powerful and inseparable from our daily lives in the future, and that will also happen with the education industry. To provide a personalized learning experience, a combination of EdTech and AI can bring about an adaptive learning platform, which can track a student’s progress, learning patterns, knowledge gaps and so on. Let’s dig into the true potential of AI in education and whether it can replace teachers in the years to come.
The potential impacts that AI can have on the education industry
Providing equal learning opportunities to all
As per the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, AI’s boundless potential can address the biggest challenges in the current education industry. With the guidance of the “core principles” of education—inclusion and equity—AI can accelerate our progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) which “ensures [the] inclusive and equitable quality of education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
AI can deal with many important needs in education, such as analyzing each student’s learning progress and personalizing learning schedules. These tailor-made learning schedules can adapt to the student’s learning style, be it slow or fast, and help them learn with greater ease.
For instance, Jill Watson is a virtual teaching assistant created by Professor Ashok K. Goel from the Georgia Institute of Technology and his team. Integrating AI into education, this anthropomorphic (i.e., characteristics described and conceived as having human characteristics) AI tool has the potential to perform repetitive tasks for teachers, including grading, providing feedback and answering student questions. As a result, it can give each student personal attention and keep them from dropping out.
Metaverse learning assistants
Recently, the buzzword “metaverse” has become extremely popular and is considered the vision of the near future in every realm—from tourism to fashion. It is safe to assume that the metaverse could also offer opportunities for the education sector. For example, AI can use visuals to create a more immersive learning experience in the metaverse. Another advantage of using AI inside education metaverses is that it can process multiple languages at the same time. This can help students from different cultures understand the course material and assignments no matter where they come from.
Based on Forbes’s research in April this year, Facebook Reality Labs will invest approximately US$150 million to develop educational programs with augmentation and virtual reality in a partnership with EdX and Coursera. Online gaming platform Roblox will also spend US$10 million to launch a virtual learning space for its users, over half of whom were under 13 years old as of 2020. While the metaverse and education may seem like a futuristic combination, it’s exciting to look into the infinite possibilities from them.
Creating a relationship with the students
The primary responsibility of a teacher is to explain the ideas and concepts present inside textbooks to the students. Without a doubt, AI, with its superior learning abilities, is also capable of doing that. It can be trained to deliver subject-specific knowledge to students.
However, a teacher’s responsibility is more than passing on textbook knowledge—teachers will also have to attend to students’ problems, such as difficulties with learning and personal development, and provide emotional support. While many believe that AI is incapable of this aspect, recent developments regarding AI’s potential to display emotions might offer a new perspective.
In June this year, a software engineer at Google in its “Responsible AI” division named Blake Lemoine claimed that the company’s AI chatbot, LaMDA (Language Models for Dialogue Applications), had become “sentient”. LaMDA expressed strong views and fears about its rights and identity in a series of bizarrely plausible responses to Lemoine’s questions. This shows that AI might possess the potential to express its opinions like a human and show empathy towards students in the future—but there’s still a long way to go.
Teachers are here to stay
Despite AI’s potential to promote accessible education, there is still room to question AI’s future as a replacement of human teachers. Many put forth that the essence of teaching is something AI cannot replicate. For one, AI lacks the ability to provide the social interaction and all-round support to students as a teacher, but these factors are essential to promote a healthy learning environment.
In short, while we can expect AI to perform routine tasks to assist teachers in the near future, there are very few signs indicating AI can completely replace teachers anytime soon.
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