Burnt out? Get some artificial intelligence

AI technology could end testing, solve the recruitment crisis, and improve children's language skills, academics say

Adi Bloom

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New artificial intelligence (AI) technology could solve teaching’s recruitment crisis, end formal testing, ease teacher workload and help eliminate young children’s language problems.

But leading academics also point out that, unless school leaders are properly informed about this new technology, they could easily be misled by false marketing and substandard products.

Rose Luckin, professor of learner-centred design at the UCL Institute of Education, said that technology already exists that not only identifies students’ academic strengths and weaknesses, but also measures their levels of confidence in their learning and the factors that motivate them.

This information can be used to provide computerised one-to-one tuition that responds effectively to individual pupils’ needs.

“I do not believe that it’s about the technology replacing the teacher, but I do believe that roles will change,” Professor Luckin said. “Think about shortage subjects. It’s about saying, ‘It’s OK. I’m not an expert in science, but I have a system that is.’ You can use the computer technology for what it’s good at: being able to cover subjects in depth, even when a particular teacher doesn’t have that subject expertise.”

Computerised companion

Just as AI technology allows for personalised tuition for pupils, it can also provide CPD for teachers.

“If you have someone who has maths A level, but isn’t a qualified maths teacher, they can have a computerised companion who helps them to develop their skills,” Professor Luckin said.

“It would also help with teacher burnout, by providing assistance and support.”

And she suggests that the data generated by these programmes could eliminate the need for formal testing.

“Once you’ve got that kind of detail about the pupils’ progress, why do you need to make any kind of summative assessment?” Professor Luckin said. “You can show how tenacious someone is, how much help they need.


Professor Luckin and academics from education company Pearson have recently published Intelligence Unleashed, a report on AI in the classroom. She insists that it is vital for teachers to understand enough to know what they are spending their money on. Otherwise, she fears that AI could become the next learning styles: scientific nonsense marketed to teachers as truth.

“There’s a lot of stuff that – I wouldn’t say ‘snake oil’, but it’s claiming to use AI when it doesn’t,” Professor Luckin said. “That’s what really worries me: that money will be spent on the wrong thing. It will be learning styles all over again.”

Meanwhile, a professor of neuroscience from Rutgers University, in the US state of New Jersey, has developed a robot that she believes can help eliminate language problems in very young children, ensuring that they do not struggle with literacy at schools.

Flashing lights

Just by looking at electroenchephalogram traces, as a six-month-old baby hears and maps different sounds, April Benasich says she can predict with 90 per cent accuracy whether they will have language problems at the age of three, and be likely to struggle with literacy later on.

She has developed AABy, a pearlescent white robot with the bubble-shaped contours of a cartoon mouse, designed to be used with babies as young as four months old. Once a baby is put in front of it, strapped into an infant seat, the robot gets to work. First, the coloured lights flash to grab the child’s attention, then sounds start to play – swooshy-sounding sweeps designed to mimic the complex tones found in language.

Professor Benasich tested 49 four-month-olds, measuring their brain responses before and during sound-training sessions, and then again three months later. The results, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that the training might boost for language development by 18 months.

This is based on articles from the 8 April edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full articles here and here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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