Four examples of how artificial intelligence is used in education

Robots can’t replace teachers, but they can help grade papers and individualise lesson plans.

(Source: Unsplash - Andrea De Santis)

Today, we will look at another area, namely education. Here, too, artificial intelligence has and will have great applications. Here are some examples.

Personalised education

You may remember this from your student days, or if students follow me, they will know it first-hand. You're taking on new learning. Some students grasp it in a few minutes and get bored in class, others don't catch up and don't decipher the new material at all. In other lessons, the tables may turn. Those who couldn’t keep up are now on top and vice versa. There is nothing wrong or abnormal about this. Each of us has a knack for something different. Somewhere nature has given, somewhere else it has taken away. I, for example, am quite good with computers. However, when it comes to practical skills, things don't look rosy for me. The problem is not the pupils, the problem is the school system. It treats all students the same. This is partly because of tradition, partly because of capacity; there simply aren't enough teachers, let alone enough to treat everyone individually. This is what artificial intelligence has the potential to change.

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Indeed, artificial intelligence is arbitrarily scalable. Each pupil would be assigned a virtual teacher, either a computer programme or a phone app. The virtual teacher will, first of all, build a detailed knowledge profile of the pupil. They will know what the student enjoys, what they are not so keen on, what they excel at, i.e. what they are good at and what they are not good at, so to speak. Based on this, the virtual teacher can build a personalised learning plan for the pupil in question, supporting them in every way possible. In this way, it would be possible to discover talents early on and develop them. Humanity can thus look forward to a knowledge expansion of unprecedented proportions.

Automatic grading

Despite the fact that the teaching profession is not very appealing from a financial point of view, I think that most teachers love their job. They love to watch their students develop intellectually and personally. But, as in any job, there are activities in the teaching profession that are not so rewarding. I would venture to include grading among them. There are sometimes dozens of pupils in a class and a teacher is responsible for several classes. When the test period comes around, he or she may have to grade hundreds of tests in the evenings. Fortunately, artificial intelligence comes to the rescue. Thanks to character recognition and natural language processing technologies, it will be possible to automate this routine activity. Test results would be known virtually as soon as the test is completed. Teachers will have considerably less work to do at home, but students will also benefit from this situation. Many of them will stay up nights after writing the test, waiting for the result. Thanks to artificial intelligence, they will know the results right away. One of the side effects of this progress is that there may be a significant increase in the frequency of tests, which won’t make students very happy. It will cost the teacher virtually no effort to test. They will be able to afford to retest pupils, whether individuals or the whole class, at any time.

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Plagiarism detection

Plagiarism, or in popular parlance, copying, is a big problem in academia, especially for final theses such as bachelor's theses, master's theses or dissertations. This is because they are the basis for which a degree is awarded. This degree can then be used for career development. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes several years for plagiarism to be detected. And most of the time it is not detected at all. The problem is not only for the student who has acted in an unfair way but also for the institution that has wrongly, albeit in the vast majority of cases unwittingly, awarded him or her the degree. Artificial intelligence comes to the rescue once again. AI would have at its disposal a huge database of existing works and texts. On the basis of this, it could evaluate the conformity with new works. It would not be a matter of literal comparison; we do not need any intelligence for that. Comparisons can also be made between languages or later on the basis of the context of the works. So only people who deserve the title would get it.

Hybrid education

The current pandemic has convinced us that a hybrid education system will be needed in the future. This means a combination of face-to-face and distance learning. On the one hand, it is necessary for pupils and students to attend school in person because this socialises them and teaches them social interaction. To put it bluntly, it would drive parents crazy. On the other hand, distance learning must be available too. Many times it happens that due to illness or some other urgent reasons, a student cannot be present in class. Any student who for some reason could not attend a class or lecture should be allowed to catch up on the material. Currently, the way this is handled is that the student goes to his/her classmate, takes notes, and asks what was covered in class. They then have to study it themselves. In the future, digital learning interfaces will be developed. We can think of them as digital classrooms, which would always contain the current material that is being covered and also an archive of what has been covered some time ago. If a student would like to consult older material, this would not be a problem. In this way, it would be possible to catch up on the syllabus without any problems. These digital interfaces could be personalised to the needs of individual students thanks to artificial intelligence.

Martin Spano is the author of Artificial Intelligence in a Nutshell and the most-followed informatician in Slovakia.

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