How artificial intelligence will save teachers time

Preparation time has the biggest potential for automation, but developers need to avoid bias
By: | February 5, 2020
Artificial intelligence holds many benefits for education, including saving teachers time, but it's not ready to replace direct engagement with students.Artificial intelligence holds many benefits for education, including saving teachers time, but it's not ready to replace direct engagement with students.

Teachers spend about 20% to 40% of their time—or about 13 hours a week—on activities that could be automated using technology, according to a new report on artificial intelligence by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Preparation time has the biggest potential for automation, making teachers more effective and efficient in lesson planning. For instance, adaptive math software lets teachers more quickly and accurately assess student performance, place learners in groups and provide the next assignments.

Collaboration platforms, meanwhile, allow teachers to share relevant materials.

“Technology has the least potential to save teacher time in areas where teachers are directly engaging with students: direct instruction and engagement, coaching and advisement, and behavioral-, social-, and emotional-skill development,” the report found.


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Teachers are increasingly using artificial intelligence to grade assignments. Jennifer Turner, who teaches algebra at the Gloucester County Christian School in New Jersey, uses Bakpax, a platform that reads students’ handwriting and auto-grades their work, The New York Times reported.

She told the Times she now has more time to work with students. “The grades for homework have been much better this year because of Bakpax,” Turner told the Times. “Students are excited to be in my room, they’re telling me they love math, and those are things that I don’t normally hear.”

Machine-learning is also transforming test preparation. Riiid, a Korean start-up, is using “reinforcement learning algorithms” to increase students’ chances of getting targeted scores on tests, the Times reported.

And another startup, Acuitus, is drawing on 50 years of cognitive psychology, social psychology, computer science, linguistics and artificial intelligence to create a digital tutor that can speed up training, the Times reported


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But artificial intelligence can also bring the biases of its (mostly white) developers to education, wrote the authors of a Hechinger Report article posted by the Brookings Institution think tank.

“Systemic racism and discrimination are already embedded in our educational systems,” wrote the authors, Andre M. Perry and Nicole Turner Lee. “Developers must intentionally build AI systems through a lens of racial equity if the technology is going to disrupt the status quo.”

How to teach about AI

Administrators at the 3,000-student Montour School District near Pittsburgh now offers middle school courses in AI computer science and autonomous robotics, District Administration reported last year.

Montour’s teachers have also added AI composition tools to music classes while K-4  students are doing Google AI Experiments with drawings and language.

“These are early days for AI education in K-12,” said David Touretzky, an AI researcher at Carnegie Mellon University and the leader of AI4K12, a working group from the Computer Science Teachers Association and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. The group is developing national K-12 guidelines for teaching  AI.

“People are trying to figure out what students should know about AI in the various grade bands, what they should be able to do with AI and how we can best teach them,” Touretzky told DA.

A challenge to teaching about AI is that most educators don’t have a background in the subject, Joseph South, chief learning officer of ISTE, told DA.

But AI is not as exotice as it seems. For example, students at one school created a nutrition chatbot that offers dietary information to a health class, he said.

“When you get down to the fundamental concepts of AI, they relate very directly to math concepts, problem-solving methods and collaboration,” South told DA. “The elements that make it up have many tie-ins to existing curriculum.”


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