The excitement about the largely untapped potential for Artificial Intelligence to play a significant role in education falls very much in line with the era in which we find ourselves. The busy world we live in and that teachers are teaching in, with the extensive twenty-four-hour communication, constant newsfeed and measured demands, some relief is required. It seems that for some, this could be in Artificial Intelligence!
Just about everything we do now is stretched, under-resourced and that sense of overwhelm can be suffocating. There is an inevitability that some may desire that we head to technology with its speedy and seemingly boundless advancements for an answer as to how we can cram even more into our daily lives.
It will undoubtedly be a challenge for me to explore any benefits within this short article coming from a position so embedded in the view that people need people in order to grow, learn, flourish and survive.
Cumming (1998) takes us on a journey of AI from researchers mainly working in computer science through to a more sophisticated way of thinking that made room for thinking about the connection and relationship between AI and learning (AIEd.) This brought us to a place where AIEd was closer to cognitive science than computer science and to looking at how a learner model can be developed that is able to support an effective interaction with the learner.
AIEd has travelled some distance in the last eighteen years. Hodson (2015) in his article ‘Take A Robot Language Class’ talks about the particular difficulties facing ‘immigrant children’ and how a robot can improve their language skills. He quotes the Head of Research and Development at Aldebaran Robotics as describing robots as having “infinite patience.” The “human teacher” is described as sometimes getting bored or angry with having to repeat things over and over again; something that will not happen to a robot.” The lure of ‘time saving’ and ‘results’ is implicit and very much in line with a wider view about education with its rhetoric of efficiency, results and at any cost! I’m also curious about the removal of emotion from the learning process being seen as a positive thing; the display of such emotions appear to be depicted as negative in this article. Is AI therefore about removing emotion?
Cassidy (2016) reports on a paper for the UCL Knowledge Lab that can add to this language of efficiency “by delivering learning activities tailored to a student’s needs and providing targeted and timely feedback, all without an individual teacher present.” The paper goes on to suggest that AIEd systems will close the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest children which fails to take on board research around trauma, attachment, poverty and neglect on the brain’s capacity learning at optimal functioning level, which requires human relationships.
It may be that AIEd is too young in its development to truly adopt a laminated, multi-disciplinary approach that would be able to fully integrate the seemingly conflicting research.
The desire to remove human beings from the process of learning is an oxymoron to research that argues that our brains are social organs, wired up through social interaction and experience. “The interactive influences of genes and experience literally shape the architecture of the developing brain, and the active ingredient is the “serve and return” nature of children’s engagement in relationships with their parents and other caregivers in their family or community failing to acknowledge that the particular struggles faced by such children require human connection to build stronger neural pathways” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2007). To my mind, this has to be a priority in any discussion about ‘bridging the gap’ long before there is talk of using robots to replace human beings.
Education is constructed so as to feedinto the employment market so it is inevitable that if it does not respond to AI, that many students will be left behind in terms of the skill set required to work in the future. Progress in this area, therefore, cannot be halted even if that were possible which of course it isn’t. So a response to it is vital regardless of whether it is deemed as a good thing for human beings or not.
At a time when I believe humans need more humans teaching kindness, connection, collaboration and self-regulation, it is hard for me to connect with the enthusiasm of many of the researchers in this field. However, it is highly possible that real and valuable progress can be made when we join up the dots about the power of human relationships (a discourse that is still very much growing) that can then facilitate learning using the sophisticated resources offered by AIEd.
Cassidy, S. (2016) Artificial intelligence ‘should be used to give children one-on-one tutoring Available from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/artificial-intelligence-should-be-used-to-give-children-one-on-one-tutoring-a6902296.html (Accessed 1st December 2016)
Center (sic) of The Developing Child, Harvard University. Available at http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/ (Accessed 29th November, 2016)
Cumming, G. (1998) ‘Artificial intelligence in education: an exploration’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 14, pp.251-259
Devlin, H. (2016) Schools not preparing children to succeed in an AI future, MPs Warn, Available from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/12/schools-not-preparing-children-to-succeed-in-an-ai-future-mps-warn (Accessed on 2nd December 2016)
Hodson, H (2015) Take A Robot Language Class. New Scientist. 28 November 2015
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2007). The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do.