So, AI in education, what’s going on or should I say what’s not going on?
AI has transformed from something associated with science fiction to everyday fact (e.g. smart phones camera subject detection to banking apps). AI is an umbrella term encompassing numerous technologies and concepts (e.g. machine learning, natural language understanding, robotics etc) these technologies can be found in software and hardware varying from virtual assistants\chatbots to physical robots that make a soya no froth vanilla latte. However the technoloyy is deployed they all share a common aspect of striving to be intelligent (the definition if intelligence can vary).
Its an interesting topic as AI encompasses a lot of aspects plus we find vendors willingly splash the term around to tempt us into adopting something we consider cutting edge based on the 2 letters (see my previous post Smart, Bots, AI and other kinda related buzz words). With all the AI hype we are seeing lots of questions regarding where\how\if it shoudl be used, ethics, value, quality and role of AI in life.
Adoption of agents that use an aspect of AI is growing and we are starting to see wider interest in the education sector with numerous institutions exploring how AI could be used and whether it should be used. Commercially education is probably next on the list for vendors as they look to apply the lessons learnt from brand retention and purchase completions to student retention \completion and application conversion rates.
So back to the what’s going on FE\HE in the UK with AI, I have been attending JISC events, scouring articles and stalking twitter and its quieter than I thought. Most use some aspect of AI via a chatbot which I have quickly summarised below (obvs thier might be other things which i haven’t found, comment if I have missed anything):
- Leeds Beckett: Becky Bot used for clearing in 2017 and won a THE award. Using Facebook Messenger Bot
- Bolton College: ask Ada created for personalised help and general information (but being actively expanded) using IBM Watson Conversation (name changes every other day)
- Lancaster: using Amazon Lex (trying to find out what for)
- Portsmouth University: ran an open day information bot via DialogFlow Framework
- USW: Postgraduate study FAQ chatbot via Azure Bot Framework
- UWS: piloted a bot for admissions via a Facebook Messenger bot
Most of the above deal with transactional conversations and represent another avenue for accessing content (I won’t discuss how that content exists and the impact on wider web policies and web management) or highlight the lack of existing content. I also noticed that reviewing the technologies used (bot frameworks) they are all very similar and relatively cheap (you can have a bot that deals with 120k interactions a month plus support for under £3k a year) which is great but leads to a slight headache when choosing who will you build Hal on!
‘AI can drive efficiency, personalization and streamline admin tasks to allow teachers the time and freedom to provide understanding and adaptability—uniquely human capabilities where machines would struggle’ – Bernard Marr, How Is AI Used In Education
So, what about in teaching? Could we use AI in teaching and what role could\should it take? Do we envisage assessment systems were AI mark to the mass conformity of previous data leading to the assimilation of learning or virtual assistants that can help us connect to peers , aid us in learning new topics by content suggestions, personalised courses that would help students achieve a predicted grade in a course?
And what about the students? Do they want to be taught by a bot, would they miss Dr Indiana Jones ransom stories about how he ate monkey brains or would they be happier with AI as a teacher who stuck to topic and smiled when it was calculated to be 99.2% likely to have a positive influence on the human. Plus are they happy paying for education by AI?
Teaching, automation, AI is a fascinating topic and to be honest I would struggle to be confident to publish my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong I think it can have a great impact on education and I don’t foresee the doom and gloom that some predict however I am surprised that we aren’t seeing an AI boom in education……yet.
Maybe the slow adoption is due to knowledge gaps, funding, use case identification (too big or deemed not big enough), back-end infrastructure (its chaos back here!), priority or general concern that Skynet will become self-aware and a naked Arnie will appear in the new robotic coffee shop that serves awesome lattes asking for Sarah Conor.
What I do predict is that in 3 years most institutions will have chatbots that utilise aspects of AI on their webpages answering queries and offering university spaces to prospective students 24/7 365. What I can’t predict (which is the fun stuff) is how AI will be leveraged in teaching and learning (let the fun begin…)