How AI can help boost student performance

August 01, 2018 13:23
Esri China (Hong Kong) launched Asia’s first e-learning program, Map in Learning, in the city. Photo: Esri China (HK)

Currently, most artificial intelligence (AI) can only specialize in a certain scope. AlphaGo can beat the world’s top-ranked Go master while Watson can identify cancer cells within seconds, but I am afraid neither is able to guide you to the best restaurant in the neighborhood or to book a hotel room for you. According to the famous Turing Test, if a computer is able to make you believe that “it” is human, it is artificial intelligence.

Even though AI development is in its early stage, it can provide customized tuition to students and give teachers more time to focus on the most important aspects of education: guiding individual students.

For instance, AI can assist the following tasks:

• Take over teachers’ routine tasks, such as marking assignments. Experimental results have shown that using machine learning and predictive modeling, the scores marked by AI matched that by human grading to as close as 85 percent.

• Virtual teaching assistants can answer many of the questions frequently asked by students. In 2014, a professor from the US Georgia Institute of Technology created a robot teaching assistant, which was able to respond to students’ online questions for five months without being noticed by the students.

• Apply adaptive learning. Identify the successful formula, then apply adaptive learning solutions to deliver the right content, at the right time and in the best way for each student, according to his or her individual learning preferences and progress.

• Analyze students’ abilities, interests, and potential through classroom interaction, social media activities, etc., to find out the best learning method for them and even recommend their career path.

AI can take up teacher’s time-consuming administrative work but cannot replace the role of the teacher who would become even more important in adding value.

For example, when many students are found to be making similar mistakes in the same assignment, that is an indication of a possible problem which needs teacher’s attention and follow-up. Most importantly, the teachers can be a mentor or a coach to guide students to make the best use of their strengths and face life positively.

However, a McKinsey report reveals that the education sector is among those that are slow in adopting advanced technologies. So do we have other ways to promote students’ enthusiasm in learning?

Two years ago, Esri China (Hong Kong), of which I am the chairman, launched Asia’s first e-learning program, Map in Learning, in Hong Kong. The program gives local primary and secondary schools free access to ArcGIS Online, a professional geo-information system for government, private and public enterprises.

This e-learning software helps students to develop diversified potentials. I could tell from their responses that the software has promoted their enthusiasm in learning. So far there are about 150 secondary and primary schools participating in the program, while over 250 teachers have attended the training workshop.

Starting with education, to allow everyone to learn data analysis, as well as promoting problem-solving abilities, I believe that we can boost the competitiveness of our city and thus benefit the development of our smart city.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong