This article is the second of a two part series discussing the advantages and disadvantages of using artificial intelligence in the online classroom.

ALO7 Tutor teaching using online platform
Teacher Anaysia, one of ALO7’s Tutors of the Week, teaching her students using our online platform.

More Advantages to Using AI include:

  • Shifting the burden by streamlining administrative responsibilities: Online tutors and teachers today, especially those involved in administrative roles, find themselves so busy that they have little time for lesson preparation or providing one-on-one assistance to students. If you have more than 30 students, it isn’t easy to give them individual feedback regularly. Teachers must balance their time between grading homework and tests, performing administrative tasks, and responding to student questions. One source argues that AI “can be used to automate the grading tasks where multiple tests are involved. This means that professors would have more time with their students rather than spending long hours grading them.”1 As with online platforms such as ALO7, the process is even more simplified by developing the curriculum and courseware for the tutors. The tutor does not have to re-invent or over supplement the curriculum as one does in most physical classrooms. Instead, the curriculum and online learning platform are provided, and it is the tutor’s job to reinforce the material via creative interaction and one-on-one engagement. This set-up gives the tutor more time to provide feedback, promote creativity in learning, and interact with the students. AI lifts the burden from tutors by offering data collected from student performance to help teachers better connect with their students and provide more personalized and constructive feedback. 
  • Eliminating Bias: One of the most significant advantages of artificial intelligence is its ability to eliminate human bias in the grading system (although this is debatable). According to one source, “The future of AI in schools will leverage solutions capable of grading papers and evaluating exams using established rubrics and benchmarks to both automate completion and eliminate bias.”2 Ideally, all students will be graded according to a pre-established benchmark. However, there are concerns about the effectiveness of this system (see “disadvantages of AI”). Additionally, AI grading systems will ensure that all students are evaluated fairly. This process removes certain factors such as a tutor grading a student poorly or more favorably because of personal preference, favoritism, or prejudice/racism. An example of such an automated grading system is E-rater, used by the Educational Testing Service to rate the GRE. However, the system is not flawless. I will discuss this in detail later.
  • Increased global and interactive learning: One of the best features of AI is that it is leading the way for better global learning. Education is made more available and on-demand through AI. For example, many ALO7 tutors reside outside of China (where the students are located), yet the AI classroom makes it possible for the student and tutor to meet virtually for lessons. Learning can now be on-demand and more readily available. Not only is this creating more teaching jobs, but global learners have more access to a wide variety of teachers with unique skills and educational backgrounds. Students in AI classrooms can better learn the dialect, grammar, and speech patterns correctly by interacting with a native speaker in the online learning space. Additionally, as one source observes, “AI-powered education equips students with fundamental IT skills.”3 AI platforms draw on a variety of tech, including interactive learning games, audio files, speech-recognition software, illustrations, and videos to help facilitate learning. This variety is a plus for students who learn better through audio-visual activities. The interactive platform also appeals to students who would otherwise perform poorly in the limited space of the physical class setting. These AI curriculums and courseware provide students with hands-on experience using new tech.

Disadvantages of Using Artificial Intelligence in the Online Classroom:

Although there are many advantages to artificial intelligence, there are many disadvantages as well. Several ethical questions must be assessed when discussing the benefits of AI in education. Automated grading platforms are found to exhibit bias in grading. There are questions regarding the overall security of AI and the privacy of student information. A heated debate also exists regarding AI-led vs. AI-assisted education. Let us briefly examine these disadvantages.

  • AI bias in automated grading systems: many sites boast that AI will eliminate human bias in the grading system, but this is far from the truth. According to Kulkarni, “In late August of this year (2019), a Motherboard investigation found that automated essay-scoring systems are easy to fool with gibberish and grade Chinese and African-American students differently.”4 The problem is that the AI grading systems still rely on human information that is fed into the system, which creates algorithms that exhibit bias. In the end, the algorithms don’t analyze the quality of the writing or take into account style, educational background, etc. Kulkarni argues that the AI grading systems are, “fed with big collections of human-graded essays. Using this data, the algorithms try to identify patterns that correlate with higher or lower grades.”5 The problem remains that the AI systems are learning and practicing human biases in their scoring assessments. This goes back to narrow AI, which is trained using data annotated by humans, thus learning our biases, which infect the algorithms producing biased results. Along that line of thinking, many educators complain that knowledge assessing platforms like ALEKS is inaccurate for assessing knowledge because they make those assessments based on a 20-30 question test. Kulkarni asks, “how can they claim to accurately measure someone’s knowledge state from such a small number of questions?”6 These are some disadvantages related to bias in AI learning worth considering. 
  • AI-led vs. AI-assisted education: AI and online education have found itself in the middle of this heated debate in recent years. Should AI replace teachers altogether? This is a realistic fear among many educators who feel in competition with the rising tech. Squirrel AI is seen as problematic because it seeks to replace teachers with AI-led classrooms. As we saw with the automated scoring systems, narrow AI learns from humans and therefore picks up our biases and inadequacies mimicking them in the online classroom. Humans are still a necessary player in the educational scene. Platforms, such as ALO7, are leading the way in AI-assisted education by using AI to facilitate learning and assist tutors while allowing educators to remain in control and bring their creativity and energy into the classroom. In fact, Dr. Pengkai Pan, ALO7’s founder, does a great job describing how to use AI as a tool in the online ESL classroom rather than being dependent on it in this article for the blog. He believes AI is best implemented when it is adopted to help empower educators, not replace them. Humans offer important aspects of teaching that AI cannot replicate, such as individual experience, social connections, body language, and improvisation. Students will always need the social-emotional human connection that can’t be replicated by machines. Ilkka Tuomi argues, “As there may be fundamental theoretical and practical limits in designing AI systems that can explain their behavior and decisions, it is important to keep humans in the decision-making loop.”7 AI is not so advanced that it is free from bias, and it certainly lacks the social-emotional quality that students need to feel accepted, valued, and appreciated. 
  • Security issues related to AI and private information: I will briefly touch on this. As AI’s use becomes more widely practiced, there are concerns about how machines are utilizing student information. One source notes, “organizations must now consider what type of data is being collected, how this information is being used, and what controls are in place to safeguard student privacy.”8 Educators must now find ways to protect their student’s private information from being collected for ulterior motives. Machines are not excluded from misusing student information or making it available to a broader audience who has no business having access to it. These are all problems worth considering as AI becomes more widely adopted in online learning platforms. 

In conclusion, AI has many advantages and disadvantages. It has the potential to personalize learning, offer education on-demand by globalizing it through e-learning platforms, train students to use new tech, and assist teachers in the learning space. It also has the potential to misuse student information and mimic human bias in grading systems. It is also important to note that amidst the coronavirus outbreak, AI is taking a leading role in making online learning more widely available should people be quarantined to their homes for an extended period of time. Keeping this in mind, AI has an even broader application and may prove to be even more valuable in the future. Online AI-assisted platforms may prove very useful in the future should another pandemic like the COVID-19 occur, and AI has already been rapidly utilized by Chinese school systems in conjunction with ALO7 during the outbreak this year. AI may prove to lead the way in on-demand education and globalized learning that students will have access to if they are not able to attend the physical classroom. Ideally, AI exhibits itself best through e-learning platforms such as ALO7 and Carnegie Learning that use AI-assisted tools that keep the tutor in control while offering better information, data, and recommendations to improve student retention and understanding.

Citations for Artificial Intelligence in the Online Classroom, Part Two:
1, 3 Johnson, A. (2019, February 15). 5 Ways AI Is Changing the Education Industry. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/ai-is-changing-the-education-industry-5-ways
2, 8 Bonderud, D. Artificial Intelligence, Authentic Impact: How Educational AI is Making the Grade.
4, 5, 6 Kulkarni, A. AI in Education: Where is It Now and What is the Future?
7 Tuomi, I. The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Learning, Teaching, and Education, 35 (n.d.). Luxembourg: European Union. Retrieved from https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC113226/jrc113226_jrcb4_the_impact_of_artificial_intelligence_on_learning_final_2.pdf

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