AI for Education

Visit John Keble Primary School in Hampshire and you will see Year Six pupils being captivated by the magic of machine learning.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is all around us and many of these 10 and 11 year olds and their parents will have used AI assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa to play music or turn their lights on and off. Do they understand how these devices work? Probably not.

Experts from IBM visited the school to demonstrate its Watson question and answer computer system which uses machine learning and natural language programming.

The children played the Guess Who Bluemix game to illustrate how cognitive technology works.

They collected data on animal features, such as stripes, long neck, brown fur, and saved this into a folder on their computer. IBM gathered the data and fed it into the Bluemix application so that Watson could recognise the animal features. The children then asked the application yes/no questions and saw how effective their work was.

“Our next challenge is to create something for schools that does not need a technical person in the room with the children,” says IBM developer Dale Lane who created the Bluemix game. “If companies like IBM are to recruit the next generation of developers we need young people to understand the technical implications of AI on our lives, whether that is how AI will help doctors diagnose illness or the ethics of having driverless cars.”

So will IBM roll-out its AI teaching to other schools?

“Perhaps in 2018,” says Lane. “We want to get more employers involved because AI needs to be on the curriculum to avoid skill gaps in the future.”

There is huge potential to use AI within schools and universities.

It is possible that within a decade robots will be teaching students because the technology enables more individualised learning.

The tech industry is already working on more adaptive learning programs, games and software that respond to a student’s specific needs, allows them to focus on areas of weakness, identify where they can improve and provide feedback.

AI won’t replace real human teachers completely but the education sector will use the technology as an additional source of lesson information. Schools will gather smart data to inform future teaching and improve their curriculum.

By Steve Hemsley