Artificial Intelligence: What do we need to know?

Part one of a series I will be writing about Artificial Intelligence.

About a year ago I started to notice more news coming out about artificial intelligence and machine learning and their uses for education. I understood the concepts of AI and ML, I could provide pretty decent definitions but beyond that, I really had to invest some time in learning more and being able to identify what it looks like in the world and what it could look like in today’s classrooms. Years ago while working on my Spanish translation coursework, we looked at machine learning for translation and that goes back well over 20 years, so it’s not something new, although it may seem like it because it has been coming more into light recently.

What I think of when I hear “Artificial Intelligence”

When first hearing the words “Artificial Intelligence,” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is AI something that you find easy to define or give examples of? For some, the understanding or a reference point might be something seen in the movies. For me, being an 80s child, my first thought goes to Star Wars, and I picture R2D2 or C3PO. Beyond those two references, my mind wanders to the movie “I, Robot” which starred Will Smith, where the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and were able to take action on their own. Today, one of the most common thoughts goes to Alexa, Echo, Siri and the other virtual assistants that have continued to gain popularity. All good examples to think of in order to get a better idea of AI, but what is the true meaning of AI and where might we see it in action in daily life?

What is AI

It is a complex concept to understand at first because it is an amazing technological advancement. When I wanted to find out more, I started to look at some of the research done by Getting Smart started in December of 2015. The team at Getting Smart launched a research study referred to as #AskAboutAI and over a two year period, they identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as education, healthcare, recreation, transportation, military uses and gaming to name a few. There were three objectives in the campaign: education, employment, and ethics. The research centered on finding how AI can be beneficial for different industries, some of the main uses, whether there are any risks associated with it, the benefits and of great personal interest, the possibilities for using AI in education.

According to their report following the research, the notion behind AI is that machines become capable of exhibiting human intelligence. “Machine learning” a concept started in 1956, refers to when algorithms are used to interpret data and take an action or complete a task. At its base, artificial intelligence is a computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a kind of “super intelligence.” It is basically the development of computers that are capable of completing tasks that normally require “human intelligence” however the AI learns on its own and continues to improve upon its past iterations. AI becomes smarter, its knowledge base grows, and it creates new possibilities for society. Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence, and it can be said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.

Common uses of Machine Learning and AI: Did you know?

In my exploration to learn more about AI and what its potential is for the future of learning, I researched how we might already be using AI in our daily lives without even realizing it perhaps. Here are 5 common uses that I was kind of surprised at finding out work by AI.

  1. Communication: So much email, fortunately there are spam filters. Spam filters are powered by AI and help to streamline the amount of spam that appears in your inbox. We know that computers can generate email, and so as email senders, whether real or automated, become more careful with choosing words that were not previously flagged, the filters must learn to adapt and do so by learning based on words that the email user flags. Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
  2. Travel: Whether you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA ( Estimated Time of Arrival). Even the airline industry uses AI, which fascinated me in finding out this fact. Autopilot qualifies as AI, and it has been estimated that actual “human steered” flight time is approximately only seven minutes of the actual flight length. That is amazing!
  3. Social networks: Ever notice how quickly faces are detected in images and names are suggested for tagging friends in photos on Facebook? The artificial intelligence can detect faces and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has added new features as part of its own AI Initiative, because the goal is to offer a more personalized and interactive experience for Facebook users. Other social media sites like Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, recommend chats to join based on an analysis of user input and data.
  4. Online Shopping: Have you started searching on Amazon, and it quickly suggests other items you “may be interested in,” as a result of prior searches and order history. There are systems are in place to help protect consumers against fraud, with alerts capable of being sent almost simultaneously in response to a transaction that does not seem to be “typical” purchase or is located in a non-home base location. All done through AI.
  5. Education: There are a wide range of tools available for educators and students whether in the form of Google Searches, where alternate search terms are instantly suggested, the use of citation, plagiarism checkers(a favorite) and even Siri is a popular tool for searches. Simply ask Siri a question, have a conversation.

What does AI mean for our classrooms?

Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms, there are so many possibilities, and of course, we want it to be something with purpose that enhances the learning experience. I think that it is important to think about your classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How is class time being spent? How could you save some time by using AI? What would you want for your classroom? Dream big!

There are some time-consuming tasks that take away valuable time for providing the best learning experiences for students. It takes time to locate appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate and to find more engaging and immersive learning experiences.

How could AI help?

  1. Communication: Students and teachers would communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students could be paired with peers instantly, which would help each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits of being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses.
  2. Differentiation: With the use of AI, students and teachers could connect with the resources they need right when they need them. An entire internet of resources accessible and deliverable to each student within seconds. Through AI, students could have access to one to one tutors or a virtual peer to learn with.
  3. Personalization: Offer more personalized learning opportunities for students with AI that can analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and access resources to help students better understand the content.
  4. Exploration: Augmented and virtual reality are being used even more in classrooms, and through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. We would not be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
  5. Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.

Considerations for the future.

There is always a concern when it comes to the use of technology. Especially with AI, we need to determine the true purpose, value and impact on student learning. We don’t want to use it just because it is the newest thing or the latest trend. When it comes to AI, the biggest concern has been whether AI would lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have negative impacts on student learning? As for replacing teachers, AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, all vital components of relationships in the classroom.

So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.

A few:

AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment.

It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student.

AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning.

But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.

Stay tuned for part two of the AI series coming up next week! Check out the ISTE U course on Artificial Intelligence. And look at Montour School District in Pittsburgh, I will be sharing more about that school after I visit it to see the AI Space and Showcase event on January 22nd.

Image from Thinkstock

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