It's not been long since classrooms used to be tech-free zones in which teachers would confiscate phones if they caught people playing Snake or fiddling around with polyphonic ringtones. Most millennials remember the joy that came when a teacher wheeled in a big TV and VHS player for a lesson or booked a trip to the computer room.
Back then, as recently as ten years or so ago, using technology for educational purposes was the exception, rather than the rule. But when you fast forward to today, education and technology are so closely intertwined that they can't be separated.
Technology is everywhere, and one of the most promising new technologies of the age is artificial intelligence and its sister technology machine learning. AI and machine learning work together to make it easier than ever before to process large amounts of data. It's the same thing that Netflix uses to provide personalized recommendations based on the viewing data of every single user on the site.
Now, this might not sound like it has much to do with the field of education, but if you'll bear with us then we think you might just be surprised. In fact, AI and education go together like chalk and a chalkboard, and the rising new technology might just be what we need to overhaul the education system and to make sure that every pupil is given the best possible shot at academic success.
Here are just three of the main ways that artificial intelligence is set to come along and change the way we look at education.
We've already talked about how Netflix is able to provide personalized recommendations to its users because of the way that AI processes their vast repositories of data. Now imagine if the field of education could take that concept of AI-powered personalization and apply it to the way that our children are taught.
Too many kids are currently being poorly served by a school system which is designed to cater to the middle. We design our curricula to suit as many kids as possible by targeting the middle 80%. But then students struggle to reach their full potential if they're in the top 10% and they struggle to follow along if they're in the bottom 10%.
That's where AI can come in. It won't necessarily replace teachers, but it will enable them to do their jobs much more effectively by giving them bespoke recommendations on how to work with each pupil. It could customize both homework and in-class assignments to make sure that students are given the best possible education.
One of the most obvious benefits of using AI in the field of education is the fact that it can vastly improve our processes by unlocking new efficiencies. For example, AI can be used by town planners to find ways to reduce traffic flows and to improve pedestrian safety. Schools could do something similar, identifying the best layouts to use to stop students from running in the corridors or getting lost in the middle of big crowds.
AI and the data that it processes can also be used to run complicated data modelling to allow your operations team to make data-driven predictions. This could help them to better plan for the future, whether that's by assigning seats at school plays or whether it's ordering in food for the cafeteria. Speaking of ordering supplies, AI could help schools to avoid wastage and over-ordering, saving them money along the way.
In fact, AI in the education sector could easily pay for itself purely through the efficiencies it can offer us. As with many new technologies, there's an up-front cost for training and installation, but after that, the running costs are negligible. The longer you use the technology, the cheaper it becomes, and both AI software and the hardware required to power it are only going to continue to get cheaper and cheaper over time.
Of course, this opens up another potential problem, and that's the way that data is stored and processed. We only need to look at the high-profile introduction of Europe's new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) to see that privacy is very much on the agenda, and it's likely that this trend will continue to develop over time.
Guy Dudley, director of Advice and Legal Services at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), explains, "Achieving compliance for any organization will require the unconditional support from all staff, leaders, teachers and support staff. GDPR isn't normal 'day-to-day' business for schools, so they'll have to make this change alongside all of the regular teaching and learning commitments that go on."
To combat this, educational institutions will need to put some serious thought into their AI policies and to provide clear outlines to parents, staff and students so that everyone knows what to expect. Used correctly, AI can become one of the most powerful tools that educators have in their arsenal. Used incorrectly, it could lead to non-compliance fines and external investigation, all of which can cause big problems and take senior staff members' attention away from education.
The good news is that educational institutions have historically been pretty good at ensuring full compliance with important legislation. Ultimately, AI is going to have a big impact on our society as a whole, and it's important for the field of education to be at the forefront of this seismic shift so that we normalize AI for the next generation.
After all, it's the next generation that's really going to drive us into the future and which will realize the full potential of AI in the education industry. All we can do is give this generation the best possible start. And AI will help us to do that.