Many people, including myself before undertaking this article, typically associate the term ‘artificial intelligence’ with images of droid-like robots or an ‘all-knowing’ HAL performing human actions and taking over the world enslaving humans. A natural reaction, I am sure, but upon further investigation, it has become apparent to me that AI is a mixture of good and bad. The advantages of artificial intelligence, to a certain extent, far outweigh the disadvantages. The real battleground of controversy exists between AI-led versus AI-assisted arguments. One article dubbed AI as an ‘arms race’ where competing companies rival one another for the best solutions and most advanced platforms. Although there is a measure of truth to this observation, this article will examine the advantages and disadvantages of AI in the online classroom. 

Artificial Intelligence: a general overview:

One might find it useful to briefly define the different types of AI and what is meant by the term ‘artificial intelligence.’ According to one source, “AI systems will typically demonstrate at least some of the following behaviors associated with human intelligence: planning, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, knowledge representation, perception, motion, and manipulation and, to a lesser extent, social intelligence and creativity.”1 Moreover, AI is simply the process employed by technology to mimic, reproduce, or carry out actions, usually requiring humans or otherwise intelligent actions. 

There are two types of AI: narrow AI and general AI. Narrow AI refers to all the intelligent functions found in computers today. According to one source, ‘narrow AI’ refers to “intelligent systems that have been taught or learned how to carry out specific tasks without being explicitly programmed how to do so.”2 Some examples of narrow AI include speech and language recognition software, such as that found in Siri, recommendations provided by search engines, or programs that identify and block inappropriate online content. Essentially, narrow AI can only carry out specific tasks by being taught how to do so. General AI is quite the opposite. According to one source, “Artificial general intelligence is very different, and is the type of adaptable intellect found in humans, a flexible form of intelligence capable of learning how to carry out vastly different tasks, anything from haircutting to building spreadsheets, or to reason about a wide variety of topics based on its accumulated experience.”3 General AI is the likes of that found in HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey or the human-like droids from Star Wars. This type of adaptable intelligence is not found in computers today but may become a reality in the near future. 

Machine learning is a subsidiary of AI and refers to how AI systems are trained to process data and carry out tasks. There are two types of machine learning: supervised and unsupervised learning. According to one source, “A common technique for teaching AI systems is by training them using a very large number of labeled examples.”4 In essence, the machines are given a large amount of data to process that includes labels of interests that are used to train the machine. An example is a platform that can identify a specific animal in a photograph, such as a dog. We see this all the time in Google images, which can differentiate or narrow the content of photographs based on the subject matter for which you are looking. Supervised learning teaches the machine by example, and the process of creating these labels for the machine to process is carried out by humans. Unsupervised AI, on the other hand, “uses a different approach, where algorithms try to identify patterns in data, looking for similarities that can be used to categorize that data.”5 In this type of learning, the algorithms have not been programmed in advance to look for certain data. An example is Google News, which groups together different stories that share similar data. Both techniques are utilized for training AI to operate efficiently, mimicking human actions. 

Online Classroom Artificial Intelligence Jon
ALO7’s Teacher Jon getting ready to teach his online class using ALO7’s cutting edge courseware, which includes the use of artificial intelligence to assess the student’s progress and engagement.

Advantages of artificial intelligence in the online classroom:

Several platforms are taking AI in online education to the next level, including such programs as ALO7, Carnegie Learning, Duolingo, McGraw Hill’s ALEKS, etc. The role of AI in online learning has shifted drastically, and it is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. AI is offering a more personalized and convenient atmosphere for students and teachers. Keep in mind that the goal of AI in the classroom is not to replace teachers but to help them by providing them with the means to increase their students’ retention and understanding. Let us examine the advantages of artificial intelligence as it relates to teaching and learning:

  • More personalized learning: Personalized learning is perhaps the best use of AI in online learning spaces. According to Doug Bonderud, [AI] offers the potential for schools to deliver personalized learning strategies and offer analytics-based performance insight.”6 Several new platforms now collect data related to learning. These platforms are being used to create personalized learning plans that cater to each student’s individual needs. This, in turn, helps teachers to perform better by providing them with personalized recommendations to help each student succeed in the online classroom. This method ensures that each student is receiving maximum attention to help them improve and meet learning targets. The Knowledge Space Theory is key in successfully implementing AI in the online classroom. According to Andrea Kulkarni, “AI in education generally focuses on identifying what a student does and doesn’t know through diagnostic testing and then developing personalized curricula based on each student’s specific needs.”7 AI can provide students with instant feedback that helps students improve in those areas that they struggle most for competency. This makes the learning process easier for the teacher as well, who has access to a wealth of information available to focus on those topics which the students struggle with the most. This ensures that no student is left behind in the learning process. AI can also condense lessons into study guides, flashcards, interactive mind-games, and language tools for reinforcement and memorization. Examples include ALEKS, a platform which assess the student’s mastery of a range of subjects, “then uses their assessment [to] adjust its curriculum to fill in their knowledge gaps.”8 By personalizing the learning experience, AI ensures that the online classroom is continually catering to each student’s needs and improving the learning experience rather than clinging to old methods that are exclusive to particular learning types. 

    Follow our blog and stay tuned for part two of “Advantages of Artificial Intelligence in the Online Classroom,” where Teacher Laura shares more advantages of using AI in the online classroom and some possible disadvantages!

Read more about how ALO7 specifically uses AI in the online classroom in this article:

Citations for Advantages and Disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence in the Online Classroom
1, 2, 3, 4, 5  Heath, N. (2019, July 1). What is AI? Everything you need to know about Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved from https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-ai-everything-you-need-to-know-about-artificial-intelligence/
6 Bonderud, D. (2019, June 5). Artificial Intelligence, Authentic Impact: How Educational AI is Making the Grade. Retrieved from https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2019/08/artificial-intelligence-authentic-impact-how-educational-ai-making-grade-perfcon
7, 8 Kulkarni, A. (2019, November 18). AI in Education: Where is It Now and What is the Future? Retrieved from https://www.lexalytics.com/lexablog/ai-in-education-present-future-ethics

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