The AI-driven classroom is here, are we ready?

AI is not infallible and an eye needs to be kept on how it is being used in schools.
Jun 8, 2021
AI has huge potential but there are caveats.

Powerful AI systems are now being used by schools to do a variety of tasks – from instantly taking the roll, grading students’ work, and even chatbots giving advice and support.

The problem is, that while amazing, AI is not infallible and an eye needs to be kept on how much of a school’s activity is being performed by the technology.

The use of AI in schools hit the headlines in 2019, when the Melbourne start-up ‘Looplearn’ began trialling its facial recognition-based automated roll-call system – prompting the Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino to call for a crackdown on such systems being used in government schools.

An online seminar by Monash University and the Monash Data Futures Institute will look at how and to what extent AI should be emplyed by educators.

Monash University’s Education Professor Neil Selwyn will be joined by experts from UNESCO and University College London in the seminar; ‘AI and the future of education’.

Prof Selwyn says while these systems offer educational advantages, it’s important that schools, teachers and parents are fully informed about how the systems work, and the technology’s limitations.

“AI promises to do a lot of heavy-lifting for teachers, and can save teachers a lot of time and effort.  However, we know that AI systems run the risk of making wrong decisions and biased outcomes,” Professor Selwyn said.

“There’s a real need for any AI system in schools to be transparent and accountable. Schools need to have a good understanding of how systems are programmed, and the logics that they are basing their decisions on.

“Currently a lot of these systems are completely ‘black-boxed’ – meaning that schools cannot really know why really important educational decisions are being made.”

However, many other forms of AI-driven systems and software are now making their way into classrooms without similar levels of scrutiny.

Monash Data Futures Institute Director, and co-sponsor of the seminar Prof Joanna Batstone said the event “will go a long way to building our understanding of what artificial intelligence in education is, what it delivers, and how it goes about doing that. It will also provide important perspectives on how the field of artificial intelligence can connect to the core of teaching and learning”.

This includes technology such as the Century AI personalised learning system and the BakPax automated grading software – both of which have seen worldwide sales boom as schools return to face-to-face teaching.

There is also a thriving local AI sector with Australian software such as edQuire being used by schools to automatically monitor how students engage with their laptops.

These forms of AI promise a neat solution to many of the problems that schools face, but Prof Selwyn says we’re not considering the longer-term consequences of having this technology in the classroom.

“AI definitely has a role to play in the 21st century classroom, but we can’t afford to get carried away. We don’t want to completely distance teachers from their students, and lose the human touch,” Prof Selwyn said.

“Many classroom tasks that AI systems are being developed to automate are actually really important moments where teachers can interact with their students and support their learning.

“Rather than doing basic tasks that teachers can already do perfectly well, I’d like to see AI software that can do amazing things that no human teacher could do. That would be a genuinely exciting educational use of the technology.”

The online seminar is on Tuesday 22 June, from 6pm–7.30pm. Panellists include:

  • Associate Professor Erica Southgate, University of Newcastle
  • Dr Selena Nemorin, University College, London
  • Dr Valtencir Maldonado Mendes, UNESCO

Photo by Alex Knight from Pexels