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How AI is Changing Education 2021

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Key Takeaways

Artificial intelligence is invading education with algorithms monitoring everything from student performance to how well teachers are doing their jobs. Clemson University professors are building AI-focused education modules for middle school students. Some experts say that AI monitoring of students could be an invasion of privacy. RichVintage / Getty Images

Artificial intelligence may be coming to a classroom near you.

Researchers at Clemson University are using artificial intelligence (AI) to try to improve K-12 education. The project is designed to tailor math lessons for individual students and guide teachers in their careers. It's part of a growing movement to integrate AI throughout education. 

"Right now, AI might seem like we are giving more control of our education to computers and tests than to teachers," Ben Lamm, the CEO of AI software company Hypergiant Industries, said in an email interview.

"But, in the future, this data can be used to help free up teachers' time and create better learning environments for high-risk schools and students."

AI Tries to Improve Math Scores

Clemson University professors are building AI-focused education modules for middle school students. The modules will teach math while also showing how AI's powerful algorithms track them online.

In a separate project, researchers at Clemson are developing a "recommender system" similar to the one Netflix uses to suggest movies, except theirs will help teachers choose a professional development path.

"This data can be used to help free up teachers' time and create better learning environments for high-risk schools and students."

When the recommender system is ready for use, teachers will fill out a survey detailing their professional development preferences and needs. Algorithms will process the data and provide the teachers with feedback.

"We're going into the context, we're talking to the user, and we're letting the user guide us with what they want and what they need," one of the project's leaders, Nathan McNeese, said in a news release. "And then we're taking that and doing the behind-the-scenes work to let them know their options."

Scoring Teachers With AI

Using AI to identify students who need extra assistance early on might match an at-risk student with a high-performing teacher, Kshitij Nerurkar, an education expert at software company Cognizant, pointed out in an email interview. 

"Being able to recognize a low-performance teacher, we might be able to bring them into a high-performing school district or a high-performing classroom to help them become better at their work," he added. 

But AI systems are often "black boxes," so it can be challenging to understand why a program does something, Grant Hosford, CEO, and co-founder of codeSpark, an educational software company, said in an email interview.

"We can measure the effectiveness of an intervention, but we might not be able to learn as much about the details of the intervention as we would like," he added. 

Prep and Readiness

One area where AI is making waves in education is in test preparation. Historically, students would have to choose between expensive in-person review classes or studying independently with little guidance when preparing for admissions tests such as the SAT or GRE. 

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However, in recent years, a handful of new EdTech firms have jumped into the market with online, on-demand courses utilizing AI algorithms that learn a student's strengths and weaknesses and adapt their course of study accordingly, Thomas Rhodes, the co-founder of the test prep company Exam Strategist, said in an email interview. 

"By making use of adaptive learning algorithms, these online prep courses can provide a level of personalized learning similar to the expensive legacy review courses at a fraction of the cost," Rhodes added.

"This helps level the playing field by providing more efficient and effective test prep resources to students unable to afford the traditional high-priced review courses." 

Constant Monitoring

Despite its promise, the use of AI in schools is not without controversy. School use of AI raises privacy concerns because it constantly monitors children and can impact their ability to express freedom of speech, Ray Walsh, a privacy expert at the website ProPrivacy said in an email interview. 

"Studies have revealed that people who know they are being monitored behave differently and are likely to self-censor," Walsh added.

"This creates concerns over how surveillance can affect a child's state of mind during such an important developmental stage of their life."