The Artificially Intelligent Classroom

Sunny Thakral, Head - Technology & Communications, British SchoolIn his 17-years long career, Sunny has held key roles at various organization & educational institutions such as Lampton School, CANONS HIGH SCHOOL, and The British School.

We expect a lot from our teachers. They have to deliver inspiring lessons, be a well-being guru, a counsellor, a subject expert, an assessor, an able differentiator, a safeguarding custodian. You name it, they do it.

Artificial Intelligence and its subset machine learning, like block chain and IoT (Internet of Things) is becoming one of the hottest marketable term in both industry and the education sector. You name it, startups are popping up, left, right and centre, to tell everyone how this is the next best thing since the invention of the written word, for education.

What is for certain though is that parents, educators and the general public need to understand AI and its potential implications. This matters as it allows us to initiate informed discussions and not get ourselves blinded by the rhetoric that AI will replace teachers.

There are three key areas where Artificial Intelligence is set to play a major role in the smart classrooms of the future.

AI Tutors and adaptive learning
Personalisation is one of the holy grails of education. The World Economic Forum points out that AI has the potential to personalise instruction and improve social and emotional learning. From chatbots to machine learning tools like Manga high and Century, the AI tutor is currently still in the nascent stage. What is proposed for the future is an individual assistant that can accurately monitor progress and well-being. By accessing a global database of effective teaching techniques and strategies, a bespoke pathway would be created for each child and when paired with behaviour tracking and task automation, will be a powerful tool in the future teacher's arsenal.

Machine learning is useful in handling large amounts of data and providing teachers with constructive feedback. Quality monitoring is vital
whilst providing academic support and this will become more noticeable as time goes on and current systems are refined. The AI tutor will be able to personally guide a student and support, identify trends and issues with greater accuracy than a human would. Where the human will come into play, will be the support and the facilitation of knowledge. Knowledge via the machine, inspiration by the human. That is the ideal symbiosis for the future classroom.

Indeed Higher Education is already on this path with both Stanford University and the University of Washington collaborating on designing an AI-powered tutoring system which makes use of reinforced learning to measure the success of the curriculum. There is unmatched potential through this human-AI approach in offering unforeseen learning approaches to students and that surely is a good thing.

Behaviour tracking
I remember at an interview once, I gave an answer related to behaviour tracking for a question about school use of data. It was to record if a child is engaging with your content.

AI will be part of smart classrooms as an assistive tool to teachers and not a substitute. Teaching is a multifaceted social interaction

This kind of meta data would be useful to those teachers who want to tweak their lessons to enhance all parts of it. Again, the key being engaging individual students based on their needs and not the teacher's need. Just if you are curious, I was hired. Fast forward a few years and China is experimenting with behaviour monitoring systems embedded in classrooms which use AI for classification.

Of course, there are significant concerns in this area and teachers are generally shy of allowing cameras in due to performance management fears. We need to allay that through constructive dialogue and teacher training as this is one aspect that smart classrooms of the future will have by default. AI based meta data analysis will allow us to get insights into how certain children perform during the day. Perhaps even down to what part of the room they are most productive in and the type of content they regularly engage with in addition to the learning content on offer. Pair this up with task automation and machine learning and you have another potential superhit on your hands.

Task Automation
AI can offer a helping hand to busy teachers, easing the burden of daily tasks. From creating class schedules to certificates to report writing to intelligent data analysis, a number of bureaucratic tasks can easily be automated using machine learning and AI. This will lead to the educators making informed decisions. By automating the process of classifying data, AI systems make it easier to identify patterns.

In their AI research paper `Intelligence Unleashed', the education behemoth Pearson, points out that we have to start considering AI in education as a "lifelong learning companion" rather than a cottage industry or a fad. The future indeed in unknown however one thing is guaranteed. AI will be part of smart classrooms as an assistive tool to teachers and not a substitute. Teaching is a multi -faceted social interaction. One that requires skill sets like empathy which are difficult for machines to learn. Through the teacher's intelligent use of Artificial Intelligence, the problem of a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, will finally be solved in the smart classrooms of the future.