"The education system needs to ensure that it reflects the needs of the future, and prepares children for life with AI and for a labour market whose needs may well be unpredictable."
In its report, AI in the UK: Ready, Willing and Able?, the House of Lords Committee on Artificial Intelligence (AI) considered how this technology will affect many aspects of our lives – from the economy to employment.
When it comes to the classroom, many teachers might jump on the idea that pupils will be taught by robots and human teachers will disappear forever. But actually, there are a myriad of small ways that AI could transform classrooms and support teachers to improve outcomes for students. Here are a few ways (large and small) for you to think about:
1. Easing administrative workload
AI could significantly reduce the admin that teachers often find detrimental to their workload. This isn't necessarily data analysis – think along the lines of recordkeeping, tracking attendance, calculating grades and basic marking etc.
2. Personalised learning
AI algorithms can update themselves in real-time. This means they can personalise learning and deliver content that is suited to a student's needs and pace much quicker than a human teacher. This adaptive learning has huge potential, for example giving learners more agency and choice, making them partners in their learning alongside their teacher, and matching their preferences to a tailored curriculum.
3. Remote/virtual learning
AI will allow students to study where they want, when they want, using whatever platform they want. This is already happening in some places, for example, the 42 in Paris is a selective school that offers an intensive computer coding course. But there are no fees, it is always open and there are no human teachers (peer- and project-based learning are favoured instead).
AI holds the potential to consign traditional, physical classrooms to history or ensure they are only used periodically. Instead, devices will connect over the internet, talking to each other and us, to ease communications between teacher and pupil, between teacher and parents, and between peers.
AI can give every student a personal, virtual tutor. This support could monitor their performance data, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, flagging relevant information, answering questions and alerting teachers. This could happen in all phases of education from early years to tertiary and even lifelong learning.
5. Formative assessment
AI can continuously check that students are learning what they are taught and give-real time feedback to teachers. Century-Tech, for example, has developed a programme that reads minute details – such as how students click or move the mouse – so it can analyse how well they have grasped a topic. This allows professionals to ensure learning is embedded, and adapt their teaching techniques and pedagogy to improve student outcomes.
6. Summative assessment
There have already been significant technological advances in testing and assessment. AI can mark everything from multiple-choice questions to more complex tasks in evaluation and assessment, providing greater consistency and speed.
7. Improve flipped learning
Flipped learning is where students look at instructional content, often online, outside the classroom on their own. For example, they might watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, carry out further research and then follow it up in the classroom with the guidance of a teacher. This helps to clarify concepts and embed learning. AI – with its ability to personalise learning – seems perfect to support this.
8. Physical and mental health
Many young people already use intelligent wristbands to monitor their physical condition so it's not such a leap for technology to monitor other issues, such as stress and anxiety. This physiological and psychological data could be monitored, evaluated and shared to support wellbeing.
9. Highlighting research and resources
AI can give both teachers and students immediate access to the most up-to-date research. This helps pupils with their learning, and supports teachers with their continuous professional development and pedagogy.
10. Flexibility in the curriculum
Some students are denied access to a broad and balanced curriculum because their schools can't deliver the range of subjects they would like to. AI could help to extend a curriculum in a school, tailoring courses to pupils' needs, with expertise, assessment and resources shared virtually across the system.
11. Presentation of information
In analogue, the way content is displayed and presented to students is very static. But technology can completely overhaul this: virtual reality headsets already mean you can immerse students in a subject, for example, walking through the streets of Ancient Rome or exploring the depths of the ocean.
AI might be able to help students match their abilities and interests with viable career options (with expert, human advice supporting this). This would help young people to make informed choices about qualifications and the next phase of their education, training and employment.
13. Inclusion and special educational needs (SEN)
Imagine a world in which the most disadvantaged pupils and those with SEN have easy access, under expert direction, to support networks and the personalised teaching and resources they need.
14. Impact on teachers
Society should be as concerned with the education of its teachers as it is with the education of its students. AI can support individual teachers to develop throughout their careers, from training onwards. Whether it is through sourcing data, new research and evidence or identifying best practice, flagging events and seminars that aid their professional development, and supporting them to collaborate, the options are endless.
In their new book, The Fourth Education Revolution, Anthony Seldon and Oladimeji Abidoye write: "The impact of artificial intelligence has hardly begun but its effect will become all too apparent over the next few years and nowhere more so than in the educational sector. Though it is a revolution that is well under way it is constantly changing and the full impact of its effect on all in education is yet to be felt."
But AI does not mean the end of the teacher. Teachers will have to adapt and their training and role will change, but they will still be a vital part of education. As Armand Doucet said: "Without great pedagogy, technology integration is worthless. Passion is what engages and empowers students. Schools have timetables; learning does not."
Seldon, A., Abidoye, O., The Fourth Education Revolution: How Artificial intelligence is changing the face of education. University of Buckingham Press. Due for publication in May 2018
Doucet, A. Evers, J., Guerra, E., Lopez, N., Soskil, M., Timmers, K et al. Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution Standing at the Precipice. Routledge 2018.