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3 ways AI will transform learning and assessment


Not too long ago, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the domain of science fiction and fantasy. But in the last few years, it has become crucial to all aspects of contemporary life. Whether it’s ordering an Uber or your simple spam-filter, AI and Machine Learning are everywhere.

In the education sector, AI is starting to take root; reimagining how students, educators, assessors and content interact.

OET recently hosted a seminar series entitled Learning and Assessment and the Fourth Revolution, delivered by Dr Nick Saville, Director of Research and Thought Leadership at Cambridge Assessment English.

We’ve put together three takeaways from his talk on AI and how it will affect learning and assessment.

  1. It’s not human vs. teacher but human x teacher

While discussions on the intersection of AI and education have been going on for decades, only recently have they left university halls and research labs and entered the public consciousness.

Unfortunately, much of the focus in recent years has been on AI automation and its impact on jobs. Take research from Oxford University researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne. They studied 702 occupations and found “47 per cent of U.S. workers have a high probability of seeing their jobs automated over the next 20 years”.

While many have been anxious about AI’s impact on jobs, Dr Saville pointed out that we should be asking how machines and humans can form a productive and harmonious relationship.

Like Dr Saville, most experts don’t think that AI will replace teachers in the near future. Instead, researchers like Rose Luckin, professor of learning-centred design at University College London,  believe it will help free up teachers’ time by reducing high-labour tasks and allow them to do what they do best: develop relationships with students.

“The real power of artificial intelligence for education is in the way that we can use it to process vast amounts of data about learners, about teachers, about teaching and learning interactions,” said Professor Luckin. “[It can] help teachers understand their students more accurately, more effectively.”

  1. Creating personalised learning pathways

The idea that we should be delivering content, tasks and assessments suited to a student’s needs and learning speed has been around for a while. However, resource constraints have made it incredibly hard to deliver en masse.

Back in 2015, Casey Newton of The Verge talked to Bill Gates about AI and education. The Microsoft founder envisioned an environment when AI tutors help individuals through personalised feedback.  Whether this is helping a young student better understand the concept and practice of algebra or building a dialogue with a grandfather in a new language, AI would offer in-depth, personalised learning experiences.

Dr Saville argued that creating these personalised learning pathways can encourage and build confidence in students, while delivering better results.

Much of this will be based on technologies such as the Internet of Things, while allows devices to connect, talk and share with each other. In other words, devices can collect user information, share it and devise personalised learning pathways across multiple platforms.

  1. Transforming the classroom

During the seminar, Dr Saville offered an anecdote about a recent trip to Japan, where he visited several local schools. When he walked into one classroom, he had a sudden flashback to his grammar school days.

Standing in front of him was a teacher, on a stage, chalk in-hand, delivering a monologue to a class of 40 students. The only difference: none of the students were wearing a grammar school blazer.

In most places around the world, classrooms have not changed for a very long time. They’re the lightbulb of education. A 19th-century technology trying to solve contemporary issues.

Dr Saville, echoing several other researchers, argued that AI-enhancements provide an opportunity to move beyond the classroom and create a true learning ecosystem.

An integrated ecosystem allows students to be always-on: accessing content when they want, on the platform they choose. Devices will play a key role in this, with more than two billion PCs, tablets and mobile phones shipped in 2017, according to Gartner.

By extending the learning infrastructure, AI provides continuity between traditionally compartmentalised areas. Students continue to learn when they’re at home, or while they’re on the go.