Edtech: How to spot fake AI for education

AI can be valuable in education – but there are lots of pseudoscentific edtech products on the market, says Rose Luckin

Edtech: Schools need to do their research into AI education products, warns expert Rose Luckin

Education technology is a burgeoning business, and artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the current buzzwords in the sector. Many companies now claim to use AI for educational benefit, and some are doing a great job. 

However, all too often AI is merely used as a marketing device. Closer inspection reveals little – or any – AI input into their product, and little, if any, evidence or likelihood of educational benefit

Spotting fake AI for education isn’t easy, especially if you don’t really know what to look for.

Companies can claim to be using AI for educational benefit. In fact, though, they may only be using a simple form of technology which, for instance, tracks the academic performance of learners, but doesn’t offer any significant analysis to tell teachers and parents the detail of a learner’s progress, or provide any support for the challenges that each learner is facing.

Developing AI that can support teaching and learning is neither easy nor simple. It takes time, and a great deal of knowledge to develop. Indeed, it can take years of data collection and research to turn into anything purposeful and effective. And it definitely requires a sophisticated understanding of learning science: what research has taught us about how people learn.

AI in education

So how do you spot fake AI for education?

Companies make all sorts of claims, and can blind you with technology or pseudoscience. 

But you can learn how to spot the fakers by informing yourself and seeking answers to some simple questions, which any legitimate AI-for-education company should readily be able to respond to.

Ask how many learning scientists work on their team. And ask for the key learning science staff’s credentials, including their qualifications and experience in one of the learning sciences, such as education, developmental or cognitive psychology, or educational neuroscience.

Do the same for staff with AI expertise: what are their qualifications in AI and what is their previous experience? And make sure you also ask how many staff have ever actually educated or trained anyone.

Check out the terminology describing the product on the company website and marketing materials, including any case studies and testimonies. For example, see how often they use words such as “data” and “algorithms”, and how far they go to explain how AI adds value to their product. 

Evidence-based edtech

Ask precisely what their AI does. If they don’t explain this clearly, in a way that you understand, then they might be hyping up their AI use.

If their materials don’t tell you what you want to know, then ask them directly what impact the AI in their product is having on learning (or teaching), and how long they’ve been using AI to improve what they’re doing.

A company that is genuinely using AI to support education will be able to show what results it has achieved with it, because storing this data is absolutely vital to future development.

Don’t be afraid to ask for examples of how and where a company's AI has been used, and what difference it has made to educational outcomes.

Ask if there are any published papers or bits of research they’ve read recently, which they would recommend. An AI-for-education developer should always be up-to-date with the latest innovations and research.

Not just a quick buck

As teachers, you are experts in teaching and learning, so make sure the company trying to sell to you really does convince you that it is interested in providing educational value and not just making a quick buck. 

And then trust your judgement. The more questions you ask, the more knowledgeable you’ll become, and therefore the more confident in discerning what will work best for your staff and students.

Of course, it is vital that those of us who do understand AI and education work closely with the companies trying to develop and apply it for educational good. My door is always open to those who want to learn.

Rose Luckin is professor of learner-centred design at UCL Knowledge Lab, director of the UCL EDUCATE programme, and co-founder of the Institute for Ethical AI in Education. She tweets as @Knowldgillusion

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