How Will Artificial Intelligence Impact Education?

February 05, 2020 by Stefanini

With schools facing increasing budget cuts while teachers are expected to do more and more – with nights spent grading, lesson planning, and filling out paperwork – it’s no wonder that teachers are becoming burnt out and leaving the profession. So, it begs the question – how can technology help bridge the gaps between teachers’ current professions and the future?

According to McKinsey, teachers are working an average of fifty hours a week, which has increased by 3 percent over the past five years. While many teachers enjoy their work, nonetheless, the burnout rate is high. For instance, in the U.S., teachers who work in the neediest school district undergo turnover that tops 16 percent annually. The situation is even worse in the United Kingdom, where 81 percent of teachers are considering leaving the profession behind due to their heavy workloads. Some education professors have even suggested the science fiction-like notion that teachers can be replaced by strong AI (term - artificial intelligence), robots, and computers.

AI and Automation

Yet, as the world becomes more technologically connected, this all spells good news for teachers. Just as the roles of some workers are starting to change because of the influence of technology, teachers too may see their roles similarly enhanced. For instance, McKinsey estimates that school teachers will grow by 5 to 24 percent in the U.S. by 2030 while in China and India that estimated growth will be more than 100 percent. And rather than replacing teachers, emerging technologies will help them be more efficient and ultimately do their jobs better.

Currently, 20 to 40 percent of current teacher eyes are spent on activities that could be automated. Once those activities are automated, teachers can reallocate that time to activities that lead to higher student outcomes and higher teacher satisfaction. While there may be fears that an intelligent system  like AI technology could potentially replace teachers, let us not forget the fact that AI simply cannot replicate the many functions teachers perform on a daily basis: inspiring students, building positive school and class climates, resolving conflicts, creating connection and belonging, helping students learn different perspectives, and mentoring and coaching students. These aspects, combined with AI research, can lead to an education that is impactful in its early stages and lasts a lifetime.

The Ways Teachers Spend Their Time

To unearth this insight, McKinsey surveyed more than 2,000 teachers from Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States, which have high adoption rates for education technology. Teachers were asked how much time they spend on 37 activities, including lesson planning, teaching, and maintaining student records. Unsurprisingly, McKinsey found that teachers were overwhelmingly spending less time in direct instruction and engagement than in preparation, evaluation and administrative duties.

According to the survey, teachers work 50 hours a week, with less than half that time spent in direct interaction with students.

Ways Technology Can Aid Teachers

Weak AI offers a simulation of human intelligence that automates time-consuming tasks. After evaluating how teachers spend their time, McKinsey examined automation potential across each activity. Their conclusion found that the areas with the biggest potential for automation are preparation, administration, evaluation, and feedback. On the other hand, activities like actual instruction, advising, coaching and engagement resist automation. To lessen this gap between teachers and student learning, technology can help teachers reallocate 20 to 30 percent of their time toward activities that support student learning.

Where Technology Can Help Save Time

Preparation is one of the biggest drains on a teacher’s time. Across the four countries studied by McKinsey, teachers spend an average of 11 hours a week outside the classroom in preparation activities. However, technology could potentially be used to reduce that time to just six hours by making the time spent prepping more effective, helping teachers craft better lesson plans and teaching approaches. For instance, some software providers offer mathematics packages that help teachers understand where their students’ learning levels currently are at, group students according to their learning needs, and suggest problem solving sets, materials, and lesson plans for each group. In subjects besides math, such as English, collaboration platforms allow teachers to seek out relevant materials posted by other teachers or administrators, which can only serve to enrich their own teaching.

Yet, when teachers directly engage with students, technology has the least potential to improve those interactions. Why? As discussed before, teachers offer emotional intelligence that technology simply hasn’t developed yet.

Optimistically, controlled pilot studies have shown improvements in student learning from technology-rich, personalized blended learning. Yet, these improvements have not yet been realized on a large scale. The newest Program for International Student Assessment scores show that, globally, students who use e-readers, tablets, and laptops in the classroom perform worse than those who do not. What could explain such a discrepancy? McKinsey guesses that there is a disconnect between providing hardware to a classroom and actually implementing it. Integrating effective software that connects to student-learning goals within the curriculum, as well as training teachers on how to adapt to it, is difficult. This is why classroom technology will not save much direct instructional time. McKinsey envisions a future in which the role of a teacher will shift from instructor to facilitator. For instance, some teachers are using a technique called flipped learning, where they assign self-paced videos as homework, which give basic instruction. The students then practice what they learn in the classroom and the teacher, in return, provides support and fills gaps in understanding.

Uses of AI Systems in Education

According to EdTech, there are currently five ways that AI development is being used in education:

1)      Automation

Currently, the technology exists to allow teachers to automate specific tasks like timetable scheduling, grading or digital asset categorization. As a result of automation, teachers are able to increase the amount of time they spend actively engaging with students.

2)      Integration

Personalized learning algorithms for students can result from AI solutions integrating with other initiatives like neural networks and smart technology.

3)      Acclimation

According to Pew Research, 95 percent of teens can access to a smartphone and 45 percent are online “almost constantly.” By having AI in schools, students will acclimate to the pace of technological change.

4)      Delineation

Students’ curriculum and needs are constantly changing, which makes it difficult for educators to make sure the content they deliver remains actionable and relevant. When it comes to education, AI-driven analytics can assist in identifying important trends and pinpoint key markers to help teachers drive digital transformation by designing the most efficient classroom experience.

5)      Identification

Adaptive AI solutions can be use data analytics to identify critical areas for student and teacher performance. And when it is combined with robust security and access controls, AI can assist with spotting and fixing potential problems in their formative stages.

The Future of AI in the Classroom

While AI still has a long way to go before its potential in education can be fully realized, there are three areas in which we can measure its immediate impact:

1.       Personalizing Performance

By increasing power and sophistication, AI will become empowered to better collect and extrapolate information, which helps educators create personalized learning plans for each students. Solutions like Brightspace Insights are designed to analyze, capture and aggregate data from multiple sources, which allows teachers to gain student insight.

2.       Breaking Bias

Human bias continues to hold education back and is an emerging concern for AI tools. To eliminate bias and automate completion, the future of AI in schools will leverage solutions that are able to grade papers and evaluate exams using established rules and benchmarks.

3.       Aggregating assistance

Teachers are best at connecting with their students. Yet, often their work becomes sidetracked with necessary administrative work that often frustrates and distracts teachers from their craft. The future of the classroom includes AI-driven assistants who can deliver essential data to help teachers be the best they can be at their professions.

Security

As with all AI-driven solutions, security is just as big a concern in the educational field as it is in any other field. Concerns around bias, privacy and human-machine partnerships require a measured and methodical approach to ensure that AI works best for those deploying it. Current applications leverage machine learning and real-time data integration. In fact, deep learning has enabled many practical applications of machine learning and by extension the overall field of AI. However, the future of AI depends on broader applications capable of flexibly administering efficient intelligence to empower the crucial emotional connections that drive student performance.

Improving Student Educational Outcomes

Evaluation and feedback are two of the most crucial aspects of the teaching process. Teachers are able to prepare for the next lesson once teachers understand what their students know and can do. While technology is no stranger to evaluation – think computer systems grading multiple choice questions – more is possible. For instance, advances in natural-language processing makes it possible for computers to evaluate and give detailed, formative feedback across long-form answers in all subject areas. Good news for English teachers, writing software can examine trends in writing across multiple essays to provide specific student feedback that teachers can review and customize. If they have access to this sort of technology, teachers could potentially save three of the current six hours a week that they spend of evaluation and feedback. Finally, one last aspect of teachers’ work that can be automated is administrative paperwork. McKinsey estimates that automation could reduce the amount of time teachers spend on administrative duties from five to three hours per week. This is thanks to software that can automatically fill out forms, maintain inventories of materials, equipment and products, and finally, automatically order replacements.

What Teachers Will Do with Extra Time

Thanks to technology, teachers could potentially have an extra thirteen hours on their hands each week. Certainly, they can use some of this time for themselves, which can allow them to spend more time with their friends and families. Yet, much of the time saved can be put back into improving education through more direct coaching, mentoring, and more personalized learning. Interestingly, McKinsey’s survey found that a third of teachers said they wanted to personalize learning but did not feel that they were doing so effectively presently. They face barriers in time, resources, technology and materials. Automation functions here as a valuable addition to teachers’ lives. McKinsey found that students often didn’t find their instruction particularly personalized, even if teachers thought they were providing tailored services and customized feedback. In fact, while 60 percent of the teachers surveyed believed that their feedback was personalized to each student, only 44 percent of the students surveyed felt the same way.

There are some additional benefits to having more personalized time with students. It can help support social-emotional learning and the development of the 21st-century skills needed to do well in an increasingly automated workplace. More time will allow teachers to engage in one-on-one relationships with students, help students collaborate with each other, and encourage self-regulation and perseverance. Research shows that strong relationships with teachers promote student well-being and learning – particularly students from low-income families. Therefore, automation could reduce educational inequalities currently found in the educational system.

Finally, another use of that extra time could be collaboration between teachers, which will result in better outcomes for students. Peer coaching and collaborative lesson planning allow teachers to more effectively develop and improve their craft. McKinsey cites the example of the leerkRACHT Foundation in the Netherlands introduced peer collaboration into 10 percent of Dutch schools, resulting in 80 percent of teachers reporting an improvement in student learning.

How to Deploy Technology in Schools

The good news is that we do not have to wait for this technology to be invented – much of it already exists. Achieving these savings in teacher time involves harnessing the power of existing education technology. Yet, this is no small or easy task. Not only will the teachers and learners need to commit, but this idea will also need the support of technology companies, school leaders, governments, and other stakeholders. In order to adopt technology wisely, schools should do the following: start with easy solutions, share what is working, target investments, and build teacher and school-leader capacity to harness technology efficiently.

Currently, inequality still exists. The schools that are able to apply time-saving technology for teachers tend to have access to more funding than the average school. To democratize these gains, increased investments in every school – especially those that are currently under-resourced – is necessary. As schools continue their investments, it will be important to send it to the areas that can most effectively save teacher time and improve student outcomes. Early momentum will be provided by starting with each solutions. Demonstrated technology that can replace simple administrative tasks or simple evaluative tools for formative testing can quickly provide teachers with a break, encouraging them to seek more holistic solutions.

Yet, schools need to be careful. Part of the issues that schools face today is the multitude of solutions they are presented with – some of which function well, some of which are not effective at all. Collaboration comes into play here, as schools should share with one another what is working versus solutions that do not turn out to be solutions whatsoever. Neutral arbiters bringing objective and rigorous performance data are crucial in the education-technology space. It will also be necessary to make best-practice solutions available to teachers at all types of school systems and schools.

Student outcomes will only improve when teachers and school leaders begin to harness technology effectively. Rather than completely replacing their curriculum, districts and schools need to balance introducing new technologies with fully integrating existing ones into the curriculum and teachers’ professional development. Consistency must be maintained, helped in part by districts using accepted, widely adopted tools. Yet, teachers should have the ability to pilot alternatives, and they should have a strong voice in deciding which tools are working in the classroom and should be applied districtwide. Technology companies, too, need to be better in including the voice of the teacher when guiding product development. Once technology and teaching philosophies are combined, the result will be a more efficient teaching environment overall.

Hopefully, automation will be a helpful tool for teachers rather than yet one more duty they need to add to their already-stuffed task list. McKinsey estimates that ten years from now, teachers will be supported by a range of education technologies and should have more time for themselves— which means more time for their students. Student outcomes will hopefully increase as a result, allowing teachers to prepare students for a more challenging and automated workforce.

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