The phrase artificial intelligence, or AI, has long been a favourite concept amongst creators of science fiction. In some cases, AI is used to portray a fearful vision of the future where self-aware machines have taken over the world. Anyone who has seen the Terminator movies will be aware of the havoc that fictional Skynet system is predicted to unleash on the earth.
In other cases, AI has been used in a more positive manner. For example, the character Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation is an intelligent, friendly and helpful android whose presence is a benefit to the crew.
AI is already here
In reality, AI has yet to reach these extreme stages. However, it does feature in our day-to-day lives. If we have a question, we can ask our smartphones. We allow our cars to guide us into parking spaces. And we trust complex algorithms to produce personal music or shopping recommendations.
If we are playing online casino games, AI can analyse the way we play, how we stake and when we bluff to pose greater challenges to us. AI could be used to form online gambling tips for games like baccarat and poker, based on previous games – showing exactly how to improve.
But while the practical applications of AI are only just being explored, there is reason to believe the technology can be used as a force for good in the world of education.
Intelligent exam marking
We are not talking about android professors just yet, but there are areas where AI could make a teacher’s life much easier. For example, we know that a lot of a tutor’s time is taken up marking exams. This is often done in their own time or at the expense of time that could be spent with their students. This is true for online tutors as well as those who teach in a classroom environment.
A lot of exam marking can be already automated by AI, especially multiple choice-style questions or questions where blanks must be filled in. Where these exam papers can be completed electronically, the AI can handle these tasks with ease. But software that can mark essays is already being developed and, while it is unlikely to replace human marking completely, it could help to streamline the process.
For online courses, this would give tutors more time to perform one-to-one sessions and to provide better support to students. Artificial intelligence could actually help online teaching to feel more human by freeing up teachers to take care of the hands-on aspects of the role.
Personalised learning experiences
Just like AI can monitor our gaming habits and offer a personalised experience, it could also be used to develop personalised learning programs which follow the individual learning curves of each student. There are already language learning apps that follow this kind of process allowing users to learn at their own pace while identifying their strongest and weakest areas of learning.
This means students could concentrate on building their skills in key areas rather than repeating areas they have already mastered. In a classroom environment, this might change the dynamic of lessons, as more computer-based sessions would be needed, but teachers would still be required to initiate and oversee the course, while offering full support and retaining the important social and interactive elements of education.
Meanwhile, online courses would be more streamlined and help the students to learn at their own pace. This kind of adaptive learning is already in development and is set to grow in the coming years.
As this technology improves it will also be able to self-analyse, receive student feedback and constantly improve its educational productivity. By identifying common areas where students struggle, AI can help to improve the course content.
Questions that are not clear can be reworded or course elements that prompt a large number of student queries can be analysed and improved on or eliminated where necessary.
A collaborative approach
The days when a machine can offer the total human experience are not even remotely close, so AI should be viewed as a collaborative teaching tool rather than a future replacement for human teachers.
AI is there to fill in the education gaps, streamline the learning process and allow teachers to focus more on the human and social elements that are an important aspect of education. Outside of the classroom, AI could tailor homework and exam revision to suit each individual student.
Online computer education systems can help students to learn the fundamentals of reading, writing, languages, mathematics and science much quicker. This should speed up the early education process and allow more time for creativity and high-level learning. And online learning should become far more productive, enabling adult students to complete important courses in shorter time periods.
AI is here to stay, but rather than leading us to a dystopian future of machine control, it is set to help us push forward the boundaries of global education through the coming decades.