The global adoption of technology in education has disrupted the landscape of traditional teaching and learning. Explosive use of digital devices like laptops, ipads, tablets and smartphones (smart phones have become ubiquitous in most stratas of developing economies like India), augmented with futuristic technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, has transformed the way teachers and students interact. The days of in-class learning using blackboards, books and pens are being slowly taken over by learning apps, online classes, chat-bots and more recently chatGPT. Is this transformation in the education system, a boon or a bane? Let’s discuss.

AI in the classroom: what does it change?

“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world”. These are the words of David Warlick, an educator, author, programmer and an early proponent of the use of technology in classrooms. His wish has indeed become a reality today with digital education now being pushed into even the rural parts of the world.

An interesting question to ponder about in this context is, how has digital education  impacted traditional teaching and learning? What are its benefits? And, are there any dangers? It is always better to view a glass half full rather than half empty. So, let us first look at how AI and technology has positively transformed education before we go into its pitfalls.

Benefits of AI in education

Artificial intelligence coupled with digital technology has had a far reaching impact on the global educational landscape. Here is a quick summary of how AI and digitalization has shaped both imparting and assessing of education.

Access to learning beyond the boundaries of space, time, languages and skill

Gone are the days when a student’s access to learning and learning materials was limited to the textbooks and the teacher’s skills. Now, there are several AI-powered tutoring solutions and chatbots available such as Quantiphi, iTalk2Learn, ThirdSpaceLearning and EdTech Foundry, that provide a human-like interaction and personalized support and training to the students. Studies show that online courses, aided by AI-powered tutors have a significantly higher completion rate. Chatbots can answer student queries outside of the classroom and translators are available that make learning materials accessible to students of any language, across the world. 

Personalised education that bridges learning gaps

While the historical focus on curriculum and syllabus remain, artificial intelligence has transformed the way education is imparted. It is now possible to use AI tools to customize your study plan, lessons and even your version of the textbook to adapt to your grasping capabilities and bridge your learning gaps. Personalized education, in turn, can enhance student involvement and interest and help them perform better. 

Smart learning content

One of the side effects of personalized education facilitated by AI, is the development of new and smart learning content. What skilled teachers used to do – gauge the grasp of each student and tailor their teaching methods and content to suit their needs, is now done by AI powered tools and software. Apart from textual content, videos, interactive learning content, conversational learning and game-based learning are some examples of smart content that can be created by generative AI. Tools like Smartest Learning, augmented and virtual reality technologies, have disrupted the traditional classroom education and offer an immersive learning experience for students. 

Automated, unbiased assessment and grading

Bias – conscious or subconscious, is something that cannot be avoided when a human is in the loop. According to a recent national survey of teachers in the US, the average teacher spends about 5 hours a week grading and providing feedback. Artificial intelligence addresses both these limitations. Automated grading of multiple choice assessments has long been possible. With the recent advancement in neural networks and machine learning, automated grading of essays has become possible. This not only offers unbiased grading but is also less error prone and efficient and frees up the time of teachers to focus on curriculum, content and teaching.  

Enhanced inclusivity of education 

AI has paved the way for inclusive education, opening the classroom doors to students of all capabilities, cultures and languages. Custom-made teaching aids and content through artificial intelligence, make learning easier for students with special needs. Automatic conversion of lessons between text, audio and video formats, make learning material easily accessible to students with reading and hearing impairments. AI based translators coupled with digital technologies can bridge the language barriers and enable quality educational content to be available even in remote corners of the world.

Improved student engagement and outcomes

A Gallup study in 2019 discovered that student engagement and hope strongly influenced the academic performance of students. Yet another study showed that courses that were augmented with personalized AI-based tutoring had a much higher completion rate with better outcomes. Ai-based tutors, chatbots, virtual reality based learning etc, offer an interactive, immersive and a customized learning environment for students that keeps them better engaged. 

“Tech gives the quietest student a voice.” – Jerry Blumengarten

Students who are shy and diffident to quench their doubts around their peers, are more at ease with chatbots and online tutors where they can get their queries clarified without the fear of being judged. 

A classroom setting where the teacher was limited to designing the lessons around the average student’s capabilities, often led to the bright students feeling bored and those who were slow to grasping concepts, feeling lost. With personalized learning via AI, all students, irrespective of their comfort level and grasp with a subject, are kept engaged and interested. 

Democratization of education

Democracy in education refers to an educational system where teachers and students work as equals in planning and managing the educational goals and objectives. It also refers to good quality education being available to all without barriers. Can AI play an important role in facilitating democracy in education? Definitely, a yes. Through ubiquitous accessibility of smart learning content with no language, time, space or skill barriers, personalized learning environments, unbiased assessment, enhanced inclusivity and improved student engagement, AI has indeed laid the foundation for democracy in education.

Is there a ‘bane’ side to AI in education?

Just as there are two sides to every coin, the growing use of AI and digital technologies in classrooms has its share of cons. 

Reduced Teacher-student interaction

Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.”  – Bill Gates

Though teachers are not and cannot be replaced, the increasing use of AI driven technologies in classrooms has reduced the face to face interaction time between teachers and students. Childhood is a critical time for not only intellectual, but also emotional and social development. A child’s first lessons in social interaction, working together and communicating effectively occur in school. The in-person interactions between a student and a teacher, as well as other students, help to forge strong relationships. Technology should therefore be embraced with caution and balance to ensure that the human touch is not impacted. 

Technology Addiction

The rising use of mobile devices like smartphones, ipads and tablets, has been linked to psychological, social and health problems. From eye strains, neck, back, shoulder and wrist pains to restlessness and lack of focus, anxiety and depression, too much technology and devices can create an adverse impact on your child’s growth and development.  

Students have it too easy

While on one hand, chatbots and online tutors help shy students clarify their doubts without being judged, they also prevent them from experiencing difficult social situations that would in turn help them overcome their fears and develop their confidence. Plagiarism is yet another danger of AI powered tools. In a recent survey, 89% of students admitted to using ChatGPT for doing their homeworks and 48% for assisting in their at-home tests.  Sometimes, too easy a world can hamper your growth in more ways than one!

Data Privacy and Security

As with any data driven digital technology, data privacy and security issues exist  in AI powered classrooms and need to be addressed. Organisations like UNESCO have documented guidelines for policy makers in the educational sector to tackle these issues.

So, what’s the final verdict?

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” – John Dewey

The world around us is changing rapidly with the advancements in technology and research. And any change has both the ‘boon’ and ‘bane’ side to it. Embracing change is a necessity for progress. However, as a kindergarten teacher said – Yes, kids love technology, but they also love legos, scented markers, handstands, books and mud puddles. It’s all about balance.”  Embracing change with balance and awareness is the way to go!