Imagine a student walks into their history class, and instead of being greeted by their teacher, they are greeted by a robot who through a variety of sensors can tell their mood and how much sleep they have received. In addition, the technology has access to an abundance of data that tells them how the student learns best and how they typically perform in the classroom. All of this information helps the artificial intelligence (AI) construct a learning environment tailored to the student’s needs. Although this theoretical world may seem centuries away, it is the reality that children will face in the near future. Already, there is one computer available to every five students in public schools, and more money is being spent on technology than any other sector of education (5). This presents the question: How does AI alter perceptions about public school education across the United States, and how do these perceptions affect the implementation of these technologies? The future involves classrooms where technology and teachers work together to bring a personalized and quality education to everyone. However, the challenge is gaining social acceptance and overcoming privacy issues surrounding AI. Although it may face ethical and technical obstacles before becoming a reality, the implementation of AI in schools can take many forms, result in economic benefits, and provide students with a more personalized learning track.
To understand the implications of this technology, it is important to know what AI and big data are. As defined by researchers at Pearson, AI consists of computer systems that have been designed to interact through abilities like speech (9). Big data is typically used by AI to perform tasks. Big data is defined as large data sets that must be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns (9). It is commonly used by companies to identify strategies that are working and subsequently those that are not.
Dublin and Paradiso, researchers at MIT, found that sensors can create environments, in this case learning environments, with the help of AI in “Extra Sensory Perception”. For example, sensors can be used to determine how efficient a work environment is and if changes need to be made (4). This can be applied to improve schools and identify problems. They also discuss a futuristic world in which these sensors can interact with humans (4). An example of this in the context of education would be robot teachers. This theme of tools expanding human capabilities is also evident in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” because Alice augments her imagination by playing with the kittens and yarn (3). In this case, the kittens and yarn are synonymous with AI and represent its ability to improve students’ abilities. These pieces show that the technology is available and can be applied in various ways.
AI in classrooms can and probably will take many different paths. From sensors that collect data on students to online learning platforms that adapt to students’ preferred learning methods, the future of education with AI is truly variable. Currently, the most common approach is web-based learning platforms that take in student information and create personalized paths. They will probably serve as the basis for future software developments and robot teachers. One example of the use of AI web-based platforms is seen at Hazelwood High School when the school implemented a platform called ALEKS. Before the implementation of the program, the algebra proficiency rate was only 6.5%. After only three years, it had climbed to 44.8%. This shift shows the success of one form of AI in schools (11). Another approach incorporates classroom sensors. Lukin, an expert on AI at Pearson, states, “Classrooms could be equipped with … physiological sensors to collect and analyze information about each student” (9). By equipping classrooms with sensors, AI can tell teachers if students are falling behind. It can also point out specific issues the student may be having such as lack of sleep or emotional problems that are often overlooked.
Although there are a variety of ways AI can be applied, many wonder why it is needed. Currently, teacher preparation programs have 240,000 fewer teachers than they need. This is on top of high attrition rates (staff turnover per year) and a major loss of educators after the 2008 recession (12). This problem only grows on a global scale with 25.8 million new teachers needed (9). AI will be instrumental in dealing with the lack of teachers the world faces and improving education quality to ensure future generations will be prepared.
While AI is needed, many of the people who will be affected by it do not understand the benefits. Especially in the United States, there is a negative perception. This is seen in parents, students, and teachers. The main concern of teachers is that AI is a threat to their jobs. It is important for them to understand that the technology will not completely remove the role of the teacher in the classroom setting. As stated by Ivanov, a computer science researcher at Varna University, “human teachers are needed to plan and prepare the module content.” (6) AI cannot currently prepare its own content, write assessments, or monitor student behavior. Instead, AI still relieves timely tasks teachers would normally manage. It also provides personalized teaching for struggling students and helps all students improve by analyzing big data. In this way, AI allows teachers to devote more time towards helping struggling students. Although new technology may be threatening, it actually is very beneficial to classrooms and does not possess enough capabilities to completely remove the educator. If anything, the teacher’s role is shifting to more a facilitator (11).
Economists are also perturbed about the potential effects on the teaching industry. Many believe that AI will take a large toll due to the reduced need for teachers and cost of expensive technology. However as found by Ivanov, “Education institutions face not only rising tuition fees but rising costs as well – for teachers, administrative personnel, library resources, buildings and equipment, …etc.” (6) So even though artificial intelligence is expensive at the beginning, the cost is covered over time by the low maintenance fees in comparison to that of teachers. Facilitators are also less costly. In addition, the potential loss in the field of education is covered by top universities selling their curriculums to other schools. In the end, AI could actually help the economy.
It is also important to consider concerned parents because of the role they play in their children’s education. They primarily worry that students will not receive a quality education (10). Contrary to this belief, the education quality is ensured across all subject areas because the content is compiled by master teachers and then distributed. (6) In addition, students actually receive a more personalized educational experience with AI. Blamires and Catlin contend, “Educational robots personalize the learning experience to suit the individual needs of students across a range of subjects” (2). Because robots have access to so much data, they can identify factors that might be affecting individual students’ performance and adjust students’ learning paths to the way they learn best.
Parents and teachers are also worried that their students will not develop important social skills. A study done in the UK at Plymouth University found that 31% of teachers worry about the lack of social skills robots will convey (8). However, a research study done by a team of AI and education professionals at Pearson found that AI would actually augment the social skills of students. She states that AI provides “intelligent support for collaborative learning” and facilitates peer to peer communication (9). By working with their peers on assignments and resolving issues together, students develop the communication skills they need.
Because of many misconceptions, it is undeniable that there will be opposition to AI. However, this can be combated by educating teachers, parents, and students about the technology (9). This education would show the benefits and limitations of AI and demonstrate it is not as radical as it appears. Through education, they gain an understanding and reassert their control over their own information. It also allows them to voice when the technology becomes too much. The teaching could take place at school orientations or community meetings and should focus on fostering community engagement.
Another way to ease the resistance is for tech companies to involve educators, parents, and students in the development of AI systems designed for classrooms (9). This again reasserts to the stakeholders that they are in control of the technology and their privacy. This will also ensure that the technology addresses the needs of the teachers and allows for easy collaboration with AI. Dede, a leader in technology development at Harvard University, states, “It’s actually a very rich kind of sharing of responsibility between the teacher and the machine. The people who build the intelligent-tutoring systems often … don’t provide support to teachers” (11). This shows the importance of engaging all parties in AI development.
In addition, it is important to slowly begin using the power of big data and machine learning (6). Initially, AI can simply process the collected data and suggest pathways to teachers. Overtime as acceptance grows, they can take on more and more responsibilities. This also allows parents, students, and teachers to realize that their privacy and data are protected and the use of AI in classrooms is feasible.
Overall, the goal should be to create an understanding of education with AI similar to the way the two worlds are compared in “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, a renowned literary author. In this piece, Alice experiences a world that directly contrasts her own, yet maintains the same basic principles (3). In much the same way, AI being implemented in schools flips the way education is typically viewed. It transitions from teachers being constantly present and the main source of information to technology being the main source of content. Yet, the same ideas are conveyed and the main goal, learning, remains constant. When the public’s technological literacy increases, so will their perceptions of the benefits of AI in education.
Lastly, the privacy issues associated with the use of AI in classrooms is the most contested issue associated with the technology. As found by Luckin in her paper on AI and education, “Schools will need to guard against the misuse of student data, and cybersecurity will be of the utmost importance” (9). A study at the University of Gothenburg on privacy and AI in schools emphasizes this point by finding that only 13.3% of students wanted teachers to be replaced and only 42.2% said that they could trust a robot (10). These statistics show the importance of establishing strong bounds on privacy before implementing any AI programs to increase acceptance.
The first step to dealing with privacy concerns about robots is ensuring that student information is secure. The main role of protection will fall under the government. For example, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that protects the privacy of students’ education records (1). Legislation surrounding AI in education will likely limit the data AI can access and implement strong cybersecurity (1). In the end, privacy will be the biggest challenge for AI. Collaboration between consumers, politicians, and the companies must be used to decide when a technology is unethical. More than likely, this issue will result in the slowed development AI in education and a variety of concessions to protect the rights of students and teachers.
In conclusion, it cannot be debated that AI does not have issues that have to be addressed, but in the end, students, parents, and teachers will receive a variety of benefits including a more personalized learning track, less of a teacher shortage, and smaller achievement gaps. To be successful, programs will have to engage all stakeholders from students to technology companies and take into consideration the issues they will face with acceptance. In the future, groups will have to consider how to best protect the privacy of students and teachers and decide when technology has too large of a role in education. It can be terrifying to consider this as reality, but it can also be exciting. It is best to be curious like Alice was when she entered the looking glass. The changes technology will bring to school may flip the world upside down, but it will not change the reason why people learn. Over time, they may even grow to appreciate the changes and see the benefits. It is truly impossible to predict what will happen, but one thing is for certain: change is coming. Although it will take time and effort to alter humanity’s perception of education and perfect the implementation process, the outcomes are too promising to do nothing.
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