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St Edward's College Malta: Artificial Intelligence in the Classrooms

Published Lynne on Monday, February 21, 2022 12:00 AM

St Edward's College Malta: Artificial Intelligence in the Classrooms

Whilst the debate regarding how much screen-time is too much for children and adults alike, there’s no denying the fact that artificial intelligence is becoming an increasingly viable option. The COVID-19 pandemic only serves as an accelerator to the process.

“What is the future of education?” It’s a question that is, or should, be asked at any level of education. Skills and competences passed on need to be useful, relevant to an upcoming generation. Entire schools were dedicated to the learning of skills such as shorthand and typewriting. Are these not capabilities anymore? Of course they are, however, they are no longer relevant. The ability to write in shorthand has been relegated to a curiosity instead of a necessary skill.

But how far does this logic hold true? Can we just dismiss subjects based on their applicability? With this logic in mind, we have already seen a shift in teaching pedagogies. Teachers are considered facilitators of learning as opposed to walking encyclopaedias. Will we ever find ourselves in a situation where teachers become redundant; obsolete thanks to a digital brain that can do the job instead? Unlikely. No matter how far automation and artificial intelligence achieve, there will still be a place for conventional, human teachers.

It is the role that is changing. Take a look at any automated, mass-production industry. The so-called ‘hired hands’ are replaced by machinery, robots just as capable of picking, marking, welding or cutting as any human worker. The question is, who keeps these artificial intelligence systems going? In most cases, it is a team of programmers, technicians and mechanical engineers. Apply the scenario described above to the educational sector, and an interesting prospect comes to light. The likelihood is that teachers will not be made redundant, but will have to adapt and develop new teaching pedagogies and systems.

The way forward seems to be a “teacher-artificial intelligence” collaboration, as opposed to an outright replacement of the teacher in the classroom. Without a doubt, A.I. driven systems such as translators, spell-checks, online tests and blended learning systems are all strong assets that teachers can exploit. Their common advantage? The capability to make the teaching and learning process more efficient. Given the right training and instruction, teachers can be empowered to personalize, streamline and enrich the lessons being delivered. It is a big step in the right direction towards that most elusive of targets – differentiation.

And the teacher’s role in all this? To provide for the students when an A.I. system can’t. Whether it is a self-correcting test, a self-parking car, or a Q.R. code scanner, all A.I. systems have one thing in common. They are programmed to read from a given set of parameters and execute accordingly. Try miming your inputs into a smart speaker, and the result is a predictable one. As any experienced teacher can attest to, no matter how methodically prepared one is, unexpected, unpredictable situations occur in the classroom on a regular basis. Judgement calls need to be made, exceptions considered, unknowns estimated, and at times, self-imposed rules bent.

Artificial intelligence puts forward a strong case for itself. It is indeed the way forward in terms of efficiency, accessibility and differentiation. However, at the time of writing, it is still incapable of accounting for the limitless variables which may turn up in the classroom. A strong asset to teachers? No doubt. An outright replacement? Not at the time of writing.

By Daniel Caruana Smith, Head of Senior School @SEC

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