Artificial intelligence: Coming soon to a classroom near you
Monday, September 09, 2019
As a child, I was always enamored with books and movies that let me imagine what the future would look like. I wasn’t excited about the idea of traveling on spaceships from planet to planet with the crew on "Star Wars," and I didn’t care so much about flying a car like the people from "Back to the Future 2." Maybe I was afraid of heights.
I did, however, love the idea that one day computers would be as smart (or smarter) than humans. That day has been slowly creeping up on us, and we haven’t even noticed.
Perhaps it is because we don’t have robots walking around our home and our office, looking like "us." Remember the character "Data" from "Star Trek: The Next Generation?" He was my favorite!
My interest as a child was always centered around examples of artificial intelligence, also known as “AI.” By definition, AI can be any task performed by a program or a machine that, if carried out by a human, would require the human to apply intelligence to accomplish the task.
While this seems like a far-fetched idea, the truth is, AI has been a big part of our world for quite some time, hiding in plain sight. Commercial planes use AI for their autopilot features. Our email server uses it to filter out spam emails. Banks use AI for features such as mobile check deposits, fraud prevention, and even credit decisions.
Have you ever uploaded a picture to Facebook and then been surprised to see that Facebook was able to recognize (and tag) your friends? Yes, that is AI at work, too!
When you enter a search request into Amazon, AI is the secret to how Amazon returns options for you that are geographically close and gives you recommendations that are often of interest to you. Your cellphone uses AI for voice-to-text abilities. AI has been a big part of our digital world, and we’re only at the beginning.
Examples of AI in the classroom are everywhere. AI is sometimes referred to as "adaptive" technology. Teachers will see this with various smart tutoring programs that provide students with customized feedback and content based on their previous performance with the program. Teachers use AI programs such as Turnitin to identify examples of cheating and plagiarism. Voice-activated hubs such as Alexa and Google Home have also found their way into classrooms as an instructional tool, and they run on AI.
Earlier this summer, Education Week’s Alyson Klein reported on what every educator needs to know about artificial intelligence.
Klein believes that although AI has seen a huge rise in the classroom, it isn’t expected to replace actual teachers anytime soon. It likely will be contained to performing rote tasks. There are still many big flaws with AI that make them incompatible as a teacher replacement in the classroom.
Take, for instance, the issue of bias. Klein writes, "Human biases can be written right into the algorithms that power AI and then amplified by the technology. What's more, the data that these systems use also can be biased. That can lead the machines to inaccurate, discriminatory, and even racist conclusions." Klein went on to provide examples where AI does this now, with facial recognition software that is ineffective at recognizing women and people of color.
Nova’s Jackie Snow expanded upon AI’s rise in the classroom in this recent article. Snow brought up an interesting issue regarding equity. "Intelligent tutors could be used to help close the achievement gap, or it could replace teachers for poor students while wealthy students get a more balanced mix of human and AI help. Where some see the potential for AI — like other new technologies — to make education more equitable, others fear it will do the opposite, further widening disparities between rich and poor schools."
There are also concerns that AI could become too much of a "big brother," spying on classrooms in ways that may violate privacy rights. Snow reports that, currently, a Chinese high school is using facial-recognition technology that scans students every 30 seconds, looking to see if students are paying attention or losing interest.
Despite all the shortcomings, which will likely be reduced or even eliminated as technology improves, the fact is that AI is here and here to stay. Schools have an opportunity to help cultivate the skills necessary in their students to be able to able to interact with AI tools and technology and learn to work with them, not against them.
Just think about this: The next generation of AI tools will be developed by the children who are sitting in our classrooms right now!
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