3 ways AI will shape the future of universities

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How might the advances of artificial intelligence (AI) impact your future learning experience? Murdoch alumnus Dr Jeremy Nunn, Founder and Director of Workmetrics shares his predictions about the impact of AI on universities and methods of teaching.

The use of AI in universities might bring to mind sleek robots in front of blackboards, explaining complicated concepts in a dull monotone. This scene isn’t impossible, however the possibilities that technology offers in the education industry far exceed this. Possibilities such as 24/7 support for students, customised learning and making education truly global are already well on their way, maybe even to a university near you.

According to the Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector report, it is expected the use of AI in the US education segment will grow by 47.77 per cent from 2018 to 2022. Given the influence the US has internationally, similar trends could occur here in Australia.

Although teachers themselves are still irreplaceable, their jobs can be made a lot easier with AI taking over simple tasks or improving their courses. You can expect to see AI make universities a more interactive and satisfying learning environment for everyone in four key ways:

1) Chatbots

Have you ever studied for an exam and realised a piece of the puzzle was missing in order for the whole topic to make sense in your head, but you just can’t phrase a question well enough for Google to help?

Getting in contact with your professor and having them explain the parts you’re struggling with would probably be the best course of action, but what if it is 2am, the final exam is in a few hours and your professor is blissfully asleep?

The obvious AI solution to this scenario is a chatbot. Available 24/7 and to all students at the same time, a chatbot could spare you the time spent rifling through your textbook by simply answering the questions you might have. Additionally, machine learning algorithms would ensure that through every interaction with students, it would learn how to group differently worded requests that lead to similar answers, eliminating the need for carefully phrased queries.

A basic chatbot already exists at Staffordshire University, UK. Launched in January 2019, it will “Provide personalised and responsive information on student timetables, enable contact with personal tutors and provide answers to 400 frequently asked questions covering campus facilities and support services as well as other day to day services”, according to the official statement of the university. As time goes on, its services will expand to include “timely reminders about lectures and advice on books and useful study aids.”

2) Customised learning and intelligent tutoring

No two people learn in the same way, so there is a large possibility for providing a better education through the use of AI catering to your personal learning style.

The Watson Tutor, developed by IBM, is a technology which can do this. It helps educators understand what to focus on with each student by engaging with the students and providing feedback in areas they need help with. The same individual feedback provided by the software can also be used to teach the teachers: for example, by closing gaps in general coursework or finding new ways to improve student-teacher interaction.

The advancements in AI could even replace human tutors. One such example is MATHiaU by Carnegie Learning, software which teaches mathematics through real-world examples, walks students through problems step-by-step, and rephrases questions as needed.

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3) Learning environments

Technological advancements which seemed like something out of a far-fetched sci-fi movie only a few years ago are already in existence. One such advancement is augmented reality, which when  combined with AI, offers the possibility of a learning environment tailored to the needs of the student no matter where they are.

A key field in which AI is breaking down barriers is language. A free plugin already available for Microsoft Office Power Point, Presentation Translator, translates speech in real time for more than 60 languages, and lets you broadcast subtitles to anyone.

Another new learning environment is the Captivating Virtual Instruction for Training, a project by the University of Southern California (USC), which observes instructional techniques used in real classrooms in order to imitate them in a virtual setting. This imitation includes humor, tone and pace as well as the topic itself.

It is also working on PAL3, a Personal Assistant for Life Long Learning, that they call “a system for delivering engaging and accessible education via mobile devices.” Creating a virtual learning environment accessible anywhere, by anyone, could make for a fairer distribution of knowledge across the globe.

Some things will never change

Regardless of how open you are to the possibilities AI is bringing, the human touch will certainly remain in the classroom for a while yet. The image of a robot droning on about logarithmic functions will probably remain just that. After all, with everything that is bound to change in the next few years and decades, why would we want to make it boring?

About the author

Dr. Jeremy Nunn

Dr Jeremy Nunn is Founder and Director of technology company Workmetrics. Dr. Nunn is a Murdoch alumnus, having completed his Doctorate of IT, Master of Science and Bachelor of Science at Murdoch University.

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Posted on:

8 Aug 2019

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