By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP, and Dr. Shelley Pumphrey
Faculty Members, School of Business, American Public University
Groceries delivered. Online banking. Fine dining reimagined. Parental homeschooling. These are just a few of the culture shifts we have witnessed recently as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Another cultural shift is the 270 percent increase in the number of organizations, representing all industries including education, using artificial intelligence (AI) from 2014 to 2019. Today, we see major universities across the U.S. transitioning to all online learning due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is possible because as long as students have internet access and a means to connect, students do not need to attend a physical classroom.
While the timing of this shift was unplanned, it has been discussed for nearly two decades on a conceptual level. Online universities have been operating since the 1980s, and virtually every major brick-and-mortar college and university has an online component. That has helped so many universities switch to online learning in the wake of this global pandemic.
AI Offers Enhancements and Takes the Learning Experience to New Levels
This is not to say that face-to-face instruction is not valuable to the learning experience. But AI offers enhancements and can take the learning experience to new levels. It can also fill the gaps in developing and implementing customized lesson plans for each student individually. And it offers opportunities to continue education under extreme situations.
While the discussion about the value of AI in the classroom continues, the reality is that AI already exists in education. AI is the new normal.
Current Uses of Artificial Intelligence
Some of the current uses of AI include:
Auto grading: Shockingly, many students are not aware of AI and the AI tools already available to them. For example, online classrooms have plagiarism checkers, automatic quiz graders and email spam filters. However, the next generation of auto-grading will include rating essays (e-rating) and providing short canned responses for forum discussions and one-on-one student inquiries.
Smart content: According to Sam Kusinitz, smart content, also known as dynamic content, is “content that changes based on the interests or past behavior of the viewer.” This supports customized content for a more personalized experience for each student. It is similar to a retailer offering products or services based on a consumers’ activities in the site.
Examples of smart content include flashcards and practice tests. Teachers save time because the materials and information can be used over and over. Students might also save money as they will not need to purchase textbooks.
Virtual facilitators: The role of the facilitator is to mentor and monitor students’ progress. It can serve as a digital link between the teacher and the student. As the Department of Defense Education Activity explained, virtual facilitators in learning encourages “students to communicate with instructors, to stay on task, and to meet course deadlines.”
Intelligent tutoring: In addition, teacherbots, the modern-day teaching assistants, are becoming more common in the online educational environment. Teacherbots are used for large classes as well as one-on-one support. For example, during a large lecture, the student can click on help and get clarification and feedback on a term or concept from a teacherbot in real time.
Ethical Consideration with Using AI in Education
There are some ethical considerations with AI in the educational environment. First, there are approximately 20% of households that do not have internet access. No access equates to no online learning.
Second, both teachers and students need to be educated on how to excel in the online environment, which is a major culture shift. Third, communities need to be equipped to address the increase in internet usage as well as enabling more communities to access the internet.
Now Is the Time for Ongoing Research in Education and AI
As education moves to remote access delivery in response to COVID-19, now is the time to further research technology in the classroom. Beverly Woolf, professor with the College of Information and Computer Sciences at University of Massachusetts, proposed five key areas for ongoing research in education using AI:
- Mentors for every learner
- Learning 21st century skills
- Interaction data for learning
- Universal access to global classrooms
- Lifelong and life-wide learning
As Daniel Faggella, Head of Research at Emerj, observed: “Not to be overlooked is the apparent fear that human educators can or will be replaced by AI technologies in the coming decade.” This might be expedited as a requirement to address today’s and future emergencies.
The current move to continue education remotely seems to support the idea that both intelligent systems and humans are needed to manage different aspects of students’ education. AI will not replace traditional education but will serve as an extension of teachers by helping them to effectively meet the needs of many students simultaneously, no matter the current state of our communities.
About the Authors
Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has 20 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management.
Dr. Shelley Pumphrey is an academic and business leader with over 20 years teaching experience in technology and business courses at a variety of colleges and universities. She is a former Manager of Communications at Baltimore Gas & Electric and served over 30 years in the energy industry. Dr. Pumphrey earned her Ph.D. in information security and has published in the areas of alternative fuels and information security.