Aug 10, 2017
How artificial intelligence is playing a complex role in today’s learning environment.
From Amazon’s Alexa to Apple’s Siri and everything between, artificial intelligence is more available than ever, and it’s no surprise that it’s making its way into schools. In an educational system that has traditionally been so reliant on teaching students to solve problems by hand, is AI in conflict with classroom principles or can it also be an effective study aid? Read on to learn more about how artificial intelligence is being used by students in both negative and positive ways.
One of the negative implications of artificial intelligence is the role it plays in academic dishonesty, an issue on the rise today. A recent article from Wired examined how artificial intelligence makes it easy for students to cheat in school. They specifically highlighted Wolfram|Alpha, a computing system that can produce answers spanning numerous subjects. Not only does it provide answers, but it also displays step-by-step instructions on how to solve the problem. Having frequently relied on a lack of shown work to implicate cheating, teachers are finding it difficult to detect whether students are taking AI shortcuts or solving the problems themselves.
One thing is certain: cheating isn’t something that came about as a result of AI. Taking shortcuts is in our human nature and, unfortunately, schoolwork isn’t excluded from that. Companies like SparkNotes have been used for many years with the consequence of helping students skip actual work. Educators have caught on to this and often combat the use of these cheat sheets by tailoring curricula and class work accordingly. With students now increasingly gaining access to AI, this isn’t as easy -- especially with programs like Wolfram|Alpha that are able to compute such a broad scope of answers. It’s clear that educators need to start thinking about mitigating the utilization of AI in this manner. It’s accessibility will only continue to increase and getting ahead of the problem is key.
The utilization of AI by students is a relatively murky area. On the one hand, there are many instances where its use can undoubtedly be considered cheating. For example, imagine a student who uses Wolfram|Alpha for the math questions on a take home exam. That student didn’t complete any of their own work, can show how it was solved (albeit not by them), and essentially put no thought into answers while getting a perfect score. On the other hand, imagine another student who has trouble understanding a chemistry concept and has attempted a homework problem multiple times. This student can utilize AI to look at the process of a similar question step-by-step and apply that knowledge to solve the work they are accountable for.
As with this example, there are many academic-related uses of AI that have positive implications, even helping to bolster and amplify education by facilitating unique learning methods that haven’t been readily available before. Experts who look at AI’s effect on academics have promoted the following concepts as positive uses of AI in the classroom:
Course enhancement: AI can be used as a complement to teachers by locating and highlighting pain points in academia. If, for example, there is a math quiz that a large percent of students are failing, AI can essentially point out where the most errors are occurring, allowing educators to edit questions and even see where they need to focus more attention teaching. By utilizing AI, learning can be optimized in group and individual settings.
Grading automation: Grading has traditionally been one of the more time consuming and labor intensive processes for teachers. Not to mention, it’s easy for human error to occur. AI systems that actually automate grading processes have become more common and have been a huge help to educators. As AI continues to improve, the breadth of grading types and methods will also expand, making the whole process much more efficient and error-free.
Customized content: Personalized learning is in the spotlight right now, and it’s becoming clear that there are benefits to tailoring academics to unique individuals. AI is promising in this regard, as it has the ability to look at strengths and weaknesses of each student and customize content based on a plethora of categories. Advanced AI systems will be able to incorporate interests into learning as well. More broadly, these programs can also tailor a specific course’s curriculum to take a different direction than originally planned.
Judgment-free feedback: Students who work with AI on problem-solving can benefit from correction and feedback free of judgment. Removing the human component from evaluation is often helpful for students in lessening discomfort when providing incorrect answers and can make them more receptive to suggestions for improvement.
Collaboration optimization: Working in groups is a common practice in the classroom and AI can improve that process. By identifying students’ strengths, weaknesses, and even personality and working styles, collaboration can be made more effective through ideal groupings. It can also assist in matching exercises to facilitate introductions and partnerships that students can engage in to further their academic success.
Operational organization: Both academic professionals and students can use AI to operate more efficiently. It can assist in scheduling and other administrative tasks, such as attendance and tracking score progress over time. Utilizing AI to facilitate calendar-related functions can promote teacher-student interaction by finding ideal meeting times based on schedules and also the hours at which communication tends to be best for both parties.
AI is a powerful thing and can be an excellent teaching tool, but assuring it’s used properly on students’ own time is a challenge. As it continues to develop and becomes more prevalent in the education setting, it’s becoming clear that it needs to be addressed more closely and proactively. Can experts find effective ways to decrease its utilization for cheating while continuing to put it into good practice in the classroom? The answer remains to be seen but, for now, prioritizing its accepted usage in education is imperative as it’s certainly not going anywhere soon.
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