How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Education

What the emerging technology will and will not do for teachers and students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Roepke

CREDIT Pearson AI.pngArtificial Intelligence is all around us. From digital assistants like Siri and Alexa to algorithms that suggest what music to listen to on Spotify, AI in its many forms is now part of our everyday lives. And while soon we may all ride around in self-driving cars, the area where AI will most profoundly affect our lives is in education. As with virtual reality, artificial intelligence is still in its early days as an education tool, with minimal adoption in the classroom. But even more so than VR, artificial intelligence could fundamentally change the process of how we learn. Some of the most exciting in-class applications are intelligent tutor systems as well as AI teaching assistants, while outside the classroom AI will enhance the effectiveness of both self-guided as well as MOOC learning platforms (Massive Open Online Course).

Smart AI in education can leverage a good teacher’s abilities and free them to work with students on the most high-value skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity.

In our current system, K-12 teachers don’t have the capacity to cater to every student’s specific needs. What if each student had a personal tutor that could closely monitor their progress, understand how they learn, and determine where they need more help? It is well documented that one-on-one instruction is the most effective form of education. AI-powered tutors, called Intelligent Tutor Systems, have the potential to provide this kind of customized, personal instruction at scale. Pioneering companies such as Thinkster Math, Carnegie Learning and Front Row are showing promise in this arena. Such intelligent tutors will be able to track a student’s performance, learn what kind of concepts the student finds difficult as well as discover which learning methods and tactics work best for them. AI tutors won’t take the place of the teacher, but will help teachers be more intimately aware of each student’s learning process and be better equipped to help them succeed. Intelligent tutors can also increase students’ meta-cognition, helping with self-awareness and self-regulation.

On the other side of the equation, AI-powered teaching assistants can take over the burden of time consuming tasks like grading and record keeping. This can enable teachers to focus on the more creative and value-added aspects of their work. In the 2015 paper Intelligence Unleashed by education company Pearson, the authors suggest that another area where AI can help teachers is in collaborative learning. Collaborative learning modules, such as a group presentation on a history subject or a team science project, have powerful benefits. Students learn to listen to each other, engage in constructive discussion and share knowledge. AI assistants can help take the place of the teacher in moderating group activities and/or participating in the discussions. This can help the teacher administer more collaborative learning projects than they could support by themselves.

AI can also help fulfill the promise of online learning. Whether self-directed platforms like Khan Academy or MOOCs like EdX and Coursera, these platforms have hundreds of thousands of users and generate millions of pieces of data. These platforms are now using AI engines to sift through the data to find patterns that help identify which lessons are effective and which ones need improvement. Using AI to optimize instruction can improve student engagement, which will increase course completion rates. At the same time, online AI tutors can also be used to fill in students’ gaps of understanding and help them overcome obstacles. Given the massive scale of these online courses, an AI tutor’s ability to monitor performance and provide high-frequency feedback can provide an interactive learning experience that is impossible for the teacher to provide.

With such powerful technology already available, why have schools and universities been so slow to adopt AI in the classroom? One obvious reason is lack of funds. Another is that there is not yet enough concrete evidence that AI technologies help students achieve learning objectives. Finally, there is the misguided concern among teachers that, like workers whose jobs are being taken by robots, they will be rendered obsolete by AI tutors. On the contrary, smart AI in education can leverage a good teacher’s abilities and free them to work with students on the most high-value skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity.

One likely impact of AI-assisted learning is that the line between traditional classroom education and online/self directed learning will likely become blurred. AI tutors will help students optimize among the multitude of resources available, and will enable them to have greater ownership of their education process. Perhaps the ultimate effect of the personal AI tutor is that it could usher in a new mentality of continuous, self-directed learning in which we all remain students throughout our lives whether we are in a classroom or not.

Jon Roepke is the director of product management for Belkin International, Inc. He leads the creation and fulfillment of new business ventures, and helps define and develop technology solutions, including mobile apps and hardware for next-gen learning environments in partnership with Apple, Samsung, Google and other core technology leaders. Follow @Belkin

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Cool Tool | Cognero

CREDIT Cognero.pngHere’s an end-to-end assessment platform designed to either be seamlessly tied into existing learning and/or content management platforms or used standalone to support the entire learning path. Content authoring and management, assignment management, student delivery, and analytics are all supported in Cognero, one easy-to-use, completely online platform. The platform currently has over 9 million registered users with over 100 million unique assessment items on multiple instances with over 100,000 individual recorded assignments delivers online daily. It also supports printed tests in addition to online assessment. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | WeVideo

CREDIT WeVideo for Schools.pngNothing inspires students like creating and sharing great stories. More than 6,000 schools use WeVideo visual storytelling tools in and out of the classroom to engage students in all facets of learning. WeVideo projects help instill deep knowledge about topics by cultivating skills like collaboration, communication and critical thinking. It encourages student creativity, storytelling, engagement and multi-modal learning, and it delivers:

• A safe and secure environment (COPPA- and FERPA-compliant)

• Cloud-based tools that are always available, on any device, on or off campus, with no software to install or maintain. It is accessible whenever creativity and growth opportunities strike.

• Effortless collaboration and management for group projects and peer review. Students can work together in teams to develop and finalize a video project. Students are encouraged to achieve shared goals and grow the professional and technical skills needed in today’s multimedia organizations.

• Tools that grow with students’ age and skill levels, from their first day to their first feature film. Students make creative decisions demonstrating understanding and mastering concepts. It starts students with a simplified Storyboard editor and then gradually works up to a more advanced Timeline editor with advanced features, with video tutorials to guide them along the way.

Learn more.

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Cool Tool | zSpace VR Learning Lab

CREDIT zSpace virtual lab.pngzSpace delivers the ultimate learning experience to inspire curiosity and accelerate understanding. The Virtual Reality Learning Solution combines elements of VR and AR, on an all-in-one computer, to create immersive and interactive lifelike experiences. This is really a case of you have to see it to believe it. A very, very useful technology for the classroom, for learning, and for conceptual understanding, zSpace is a 2017 EdTech Award honoree and 2017 Cool Tool Award Winner for Best Hardware Solution. Learn more.

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Changing of the Guard

A new generation of educational leaders.

GUEST COLUMN | by John Jennings

CREDIT Skyward.pngMillennials have already left an indelible mark on the education system. Now, the largest generation in the workforce is poised to break into the ranks of school district administration, and the K-12 community should take notice. Change is here. These are the highest of the high-performers from a group that has spent more than a decade shouldering the burden of negative labels. This was supposed to be the generation of lazy, disloyal, and technology-obsessed ingrates, too focused on themselves to understand how the world worked. But something happened along the way.

A Steady Progression Toward the Superintendency

The teachers came first. Millennial educators brought fresh perspective to a world steeped in tradition. Orderly, linear classrooms were transformed into friendly, collaborative learning spaces. The typical lecture-assignment-grade routine gave way to new, student-driven instructional models.

This was supposed to be the generation of lazy, disloyal, and technology-obsessed ingrates, too focused on themselves to understand how the world worked. But something happened along the way.

Soon enough, these millennials worked their way up to the principal ranks. Their spirit of collaboration, risk-taking, and change pervaded school culture, as traditional top-down management styles were replaced with a more empowered work environment.

Even as millennials continue to establish themselves at the middle management layer of school districts, those who straddle the Generation X line are ready to take the next step into assistant/deputy superintendent roles and eventually the superintendency itself.

Key trait of the new guard: Defined autonomy. Provide the vision and a set of guidelines, then trust your people to do the right thing. Defined autonomy is the preferred leadership style of and for millennials because of its focus on agility, trust, and ownership. The leaders of this generation understand that if they are going to encourage risk taking, they must be willing to stand by their team’s mistakes and successes in equal measure.

Natives Take Over the Technology Department

Gen X technology leaders have seen their role change more than anyone else in the education system. Job responsibilities that once featured projector troubleshooting and knowing which plug went where on the TV cart now encompass community-wide infrastructure, enterprise app management, and 1:1 initiatives. It would be a mistake to discuss the role of the millennial technology leader without a deliberate hat-tip to those who paved the way.

The new guard of district tech executives, despite being internet natives, finds themselves in a very similar situation. They graduated from high school in an age when smart phones didn’t exist and “social media” meant MySpace. Tech leadership positions have never been kind to complacency, which plays right into that millennial itch for continuous growth.

Key trait of the new guard: Conditional loyalty. Millennial edtech leaders are more likely to view technology as a core element of job function. They will be vocal advocates for brands that deliver a positive user experience for them and their stakeholders, but they won’t hesitate to jump ship if a vendor fails to deliver on expectations. Every edtech market is competitive now. If you let a millennial down, it’s not difficult for them to find someone who can provide similar services (and do it better).

Making Waves in the Business Office

The most dramatic generational divide can be found in the behind-the-scenes circles of school finances and human resource management. In conversations with district leaders, the cultural disconnect between this area of operations and the rest of the district is a recurring theme.

New-guard business leaders have made it this far because they know how to get the most out of the tools available to them. They’ve come in with a mission to eradicate inefficient, manual processes and bridge the divide between the school’s educational mission and the people who keep it running.

Key trait of the new guard: Systems thinking – School districts have gotten a bad rap for their silo mentalities and bureaucratic roadblocks. The millennial generation of school business officials is hoping to change that by taking a systems-thinking approach to otherwise specialized jobs.

It’s rarely a good idea to stereotype a demographic group, but to anyone who has followed the progression of the K-12 workforce, it’s hard to deny the distinct patterns that have emerged. Each generation leaves a unique impression on the education landscape, and we’re about to find out exactly what the millennials’ legacy will be.

John Jennings is the Digital and Social Media Manager at Skyward. Write to: johnje@skyward.com

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