Cast your mind back to when you went to school. For most of us, some lessons had us spellbound, engaging with our teachers and the subject. Other lessons – and other teachers – simply could not create the same reaction. Try as we might have, we perhaps struggled to follow the subject, or maybe we found the teacher boring.
Today’s education landscape is changing rapidly. Rather than choosing between two teachers, many people are deciding between remote teaching and in-person learning. The next decision we are facing is between artificial intelligence (AI) technologies as educators or human teaching assistants. Which one delivers the better student experience?
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Also Read: Will AI Replace Teachers?
AI Teaching Assistants
Just a few years ago, the thought of AI in the classroom may have horrified students, teachers, and parents. Visions of robots dictating to students simply would not sit well with our society’s idea of delivering a well-rounded education.
As AI technology has developed from science fiction to reality, its potential has become clearer. UNESCO believes that AI could help address some of the biggest challenges in the field and innovate our teaching and learning practices. At the same time, the organization is cautious about risks and challenges outpacing suitable policies and the creation of a regulatory framework.
Meantime, the education think tank the Center for American Progress suggests that AI could vastly improve how U.S. teachers assess their students’ progress. The researchers suggest that students may be able to learn better and faster with the help of AI.
At the same time, another area of the education sector is already taking advantage of AI’s capacity to process large quantities of data. Learning management systems (LMSs), the drivers behind many of our most-loved online learning products, use AI to create personalized learning experiences.
Here is a closer look at some of the key benefits AI can bring to students, teachers, and educational institutions today.
AI excels at any task involving data collection, analysis, and processing. As a result, it was only logical that AI entered the education sector as an administrative tool. Academic information systems are taking care of some of the administrative work that teachers or TAs would previously have done. The benefit is obvious: whilst technology takes care of repetitive tasks, humans are left to look after the more creative and judgment-based side of education.
When AI is used as part of an LMS, the technology can personalize the learning experience without using a teacher’s time or taking time away from one student to help another. The system simply uses input from student response systems to tailor classroom assignments. Delivering data-driven education means delivering evidence-based education that has been customized to the student.
AI can tailor a student’s learning experience depending on their reaction to the specific lesson. Delivering video content to students who are ‘visual learners’ is as easy as delivering text-based content to those who tend to learn that way.
Artificial intelligence technology can quite simply measure which type of content students engage with the most and deliver more of that, assuming its resources allow it. As a result, students receive materials in a way that helps them learn most easily.
AI-Driven Lesson Plans
Planning lessons can take up a considerable amount of a teacher’s time. Whilst the curriculum delivers the outline the teacher has to follow, great teachers also want to ensure that their lesson plan helps them connect to their students. Working this out manually can become time-consuming and unrealistic given already busy schedules.
AI-driven lesson plans take the demands of the curriculum into account, but they can do much more. By accessing student performance data, the technology identifies where more work is needed and how the content could best be delivered. Rather than replacing the teacher, AI can create several options that allow teachers to choose from.
Can AI rank students better than teachers can? Perhaps. Assuming the AI tool is supported by a well-developed machine learning algorithm, the technology can rank students more objectively. No matter how hard teachers and TAs try, they are likely to be more subjective or biased in their ranking of their students. Allowing AI to contribute to rankings can help objectify the process.
Personalized Learning at Scale
What teaching assistants can do on a one-to-one basis, AI can potentially deliver to a mass of students at scale. As AI-based tools analyze student performance, they automatically recognize strengths and weaknesses. Customizing content to focus on weaker areas is simply the next logical step.
In a standard teaching environment, it would take dozens of TAs to deliver the same level of personalization. AI allows educators to deliver personalization at a large scale without driving up costs or using excessive resources. Nevertheless, there is a barrier that some educational institutions may find hard to overcome. Introducing AI into the classroom is dependent on an initial investment to cover technologies including audience response systems. Schools may also need to expand existing IT resources to meet application requirements.
Teaching assistants work hand in hand with licensed teachers to give students additional attention. They may review the lesson’s materials one-on-one or work with students in smaller groups. TAs also function as role models for students. By following the school’s rules, they show students proper behavior during classes but also during recess periods, lunch, and even during school trips.
In some cases, TAs have administrative duties, too. Taking attendance, calculating grades, and generally supporting teachers with recordkeeping all fall within a teaching assistant’s remit.
Aside from literacy and numeracy skills, most teaching assistants have excellent social skills and love to connect with students and other support staff. Their focus depends on whether they are employed in an academic or a non-academic position. Some TAs work exclusively with persons with disabilities, requiring them to develop specific skills depending on their clients.
Here is a closer look at typical TA tasks.
Manual Lesson Plans
Teaching assistants help teachers create lesson plans for the subjects they need to cover. By developing lesson plans manually, TAs can ensure they tailor lessons and classroom activities to specific student needs without losing sight of the wider curriculum.
However, manual lesson planning can be time-consuming, especially if TAs are looking to accommodate students with highly variable needs. Most classes hold 20-60 students, and developing individual plans for each student is unrealistic.
No Data-Driven Engagement Plans
Most TAs are highly skilled at engaging with their students. They understand what creates student interest and how to capture initial interest and harness it into learning.
Compared to AI-driven engagement, human student engagement relies on memory and on ‘reading the room,’ to enable meaningful connections with students. Whilst this may be beneficial in some circumstances, AI bases engagement choices and engagement plans on measured student participation.
Arguably, most students benefit tremendously from personalized attention in the classroom. They find it easier to relate to a human teaching assistant and voice their concerns. Human teaching assistants may also be better at understanding context-rich student questions than, for example, chatbots may be.
This high level of personal attention comes at a price, though. Few schools or educational institutions can afford a TA for all students who would benefit from this level of attention. As a result, educators may face hard choices in the classroom.
Also Read: How is AI Being Used in Education
Pros and Cons
- Delivers data-driven educational content
- Personalized content can be scaled easily
- Takes care of repetitive administrative tasks
- Lack of human connection between student and TA
- May miss the emotional or social context of student needs
- Relies on highly advanced algorithms that may not be available yet
- Students and other teachers will find it easier to form a strong connection
- Can deliver context-rich personalized education
- Judges student performance on data and other factors
- May be biased when judging students
- Personalized educational content is hard to deliver at a larger scale
- Limited by allowable work hours
If schools were forced to make a hard decision between AI and TAs today, there would be no right choice. Without a doubt, AI has many potential benefits in the education sector. Starting with handling student information systems and leading all the way to the delivery of an outstanding mobile experience, AI has the additional tools teachers and TAs sometimes lack.
At the same time, it would be wrong to underestimate the importance of TAs for a rounded academic experience. Their ability to connect to students is based on more than data, making it easier to create long-lasting meaningful connections that support student learning.
Having said that, becoming familiar with AI application packages is an excellent professional development opportunity for TAs and other educators. Using human- and technology-based systems at the same time can create the synergies educators need to excel at their jobs without risking burnout.
Trent, Sarah, and Aydali Campa. “Schools Look for Help From AI Teacher’s Assistants.” The Wall Street Journal, 6 Aug. 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/schools-look-for-help-from-ai-teachers-assistants-11628262062. Accessed 11 Feb. 2023.
Dharasurkar, Shashank. “Top 3 Ways AI Will Be A Great Teaching Assistant – PrepAI.” DataToBiz, 7 Oct. 2022, https://www.datatobiz.com/blog/ai-will-be-a-great-teaching-assistant/. Accessed 11 Feb. 2023.
Teacher Assistants : Occupational Outlook Handbook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/teacher-assistants.htm. Accessed 13 Feb. 2023.
“Future of Testing in Education: Artificial Intelligence.” Center for American Progress, 16 Sept. 2021, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/future-testing-education-artificial-intelligence/. Accessed 13 Feb. 2023.
Documentary, DW. “Meet Germany’s First Robot Lecturer.” YouTube, Video, 25 Feb. 2019, https://youtu.be/Amfrm2V_KO0. Accessed 13 Feb. 2023.