AI and machine learning: can education get with the program?


AI is built on big data – the bigger and more accurate the dataset, the better the AI application works.


In schools and universities, vast amounts of accurate data on education are generated every year, which puts AI in an incredible position: machine learning can now help humans learn.


For this idea to reach its full potential, the government needs to create a nationwide data infrastructure, so that AI can provide insights into education on a national scale.


Currently, the application of AI in education is focused on two main fields: educational data mining (EDM) and learning analytics (LA). While the boundaries between these are somewhat fuzzy, EDM uses a wide range of methods, including, machine learning, data mining, information visualisation, computational modelling, and the psychometrics of statistics.


LA focuses more on large-scale testing and content management systems, combining statistical analysis, institutional data, and predictive modelling to work out which students need extra help and how teachers need to behave to get the best results.


However, there are challenges to the full implementation of these techniques on a nationwide level. While the Department of Education does require schools and universities to keep records of each student’s academic progress, this record-keeping is not fully standardised, and not necessarily all online. We still have some way to go before the details of the whole nation’s academic progress can be collected in a single database.


Some schools and universities are speeding ahead, using digital and automated solutions and Internet of Things (IoT) applications to manage all administrative and academic procedures. However, in inner-city schools and smaller institutions, even basic access to computers and the internet may be limited, creating a digital divide.


The steep learning curve for teachers also creates problems. Theoretically, the use of AI and learning analytics can empower teachers to identify and anticipate challenges faced by students and create personalised solutions. But with some teachers still struggling to get the hang of using an OHP correctly, as well as carrying a huge burden of marking and administrative work, it’s unrealistic to expect them all to become fluent users of the new technologies overnight.


It’s here that the government needs to step in and establish clear policies and mandatory training for teachers and lecturers in both schools and universities across the country. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) could be used to roll out the new knowledge to all educators with the minimum cost and disruption.


This needs to be presented to teachers as something that will ultimately make their jobs easier, not harder. Every teacher wants to understand what their students need and how to get through to them; AI could enable them to do just that.

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