Can AI Make Teaching Human Again?

The opposite of an obvious assumption may be closer to the truth.

GUEST COLUMN | by Evgeny Milyutin

CREDIT HappyNumbers.pngAsk any teacher why they got into the profession – it was to change lives. Today, though, it’s not easy being an educator. It can feel more like a business (with office politics included).

In fact, high-stakes standardized testing is one of the main reasons why up to 50 percent of teachers have considered quitting their job altogether. The micro-management, piles of paperwork and seemingly pointless meetings leave teachers frustrated.

The inefficiencies and unrealistic expectations that result in them working at night and through the weekend leave them burnt out.

The resulting ownership over their learning helps all students – not just the gifted ones – believe that they can and will succeed.

It’s no surprise why 200,000 teachers leave the profession each year – they’re stressed out, and they don’t feel respected. Add emerging technologies into the mix, such as artificial intelligence and automation, and it makes sense why some teachers feel like it’s time to go.

However, the opposite may actually be true.

Effect on Relationships 

In the age of AI and machine learning, teachers should see this as the time to stick around – and get excited again – because they will be more free to do what they originally set out to do in the first place. They will be free to build meaningful, personal relationships with each student, to spend time connecting and uncovering what motivates them; what they value and what they believe in.

AI is not going to replace teachers – in contrast, it is going to make it easier for them to achieve their original goal of inspiring kids and impacting their futures than ever before.

They can spend more time focusing on things like critical thinking, and developing soft skills (such as confidence, creativity and intuition) – that are sure to increase in demand in the modern workplace – and are difficult to learn in today’s world. Certainly, they are easier for a human being to teach than an AI tool.

Where Deep Conceptual Understanding Comes In 

Impacting student behavior and higher-order thinking is even more important than test scores. With no teacher intervention, using AI tools, K-2 educators in math have observed that students may demonstrate little to no anxiety during benchmark assessments, because deep, conceptual understanding has helped them internalize models.

The resulting ownership over their learning helps all students – not just the gifted ones – believe that they can and will succeed. Research shows that this expectation itself is one of the most important conditions for true learning.

There is a strong motivational component to higher-order, critical thinking as well as an analytical one. This is where humans shine. Indeed, I am sure more teachers would love to spend more personalized, one-on-one time on how to be a good listener, how to accept feedback, how to communicate better, how to collaborate well and how to resolve conflicts.

The Time Reclamation Factor 

Reclaiming learning time through supplemental AI will free teachers up to make their job human again, to make it about the bigger mission.

For example, while a human teaches small groups, intelligent applications provide independent, individualized instruction for the rest of your class. In this scenario, a robot could ensure that children are using tools like manipulatives correctly, or create an environment that helps kids learn models that explain mathematical concepts.

The Great Return

Rather than causing a mass exodus of teachers, artificial intelligence may in fact signal a great return to teaching, because it may become human again to educators. Many people are afraid that schools are becoming job-factories.

Most people would say that they want an education system that believes in teaching children how to think, and not just what to think, so that they are better prepared for life in general (and there is more to life than work).

When it comes to teaching critical thinking, uncovering what a child values and what they are motivated by may actually be the key to if they will be able to use critical thinking skills in the first place.

Personalized instruction is difficult to do at scale, due to time and resource constraints. At the same time, human relationships are difficult to reproduce – teachers have the unique ability to form relationships with students, motivate them, pinpoint their interests and interact with them on an emotional level.

Now Is the Time

Educators should not ignore, be discouraged or made afraid by supplemental artificial intelligence, machine learning, or whatever you want to call it.

Deep, meaningful relationships is not one of the things that AI does well. If you want to teach for the reasons why you got into the education field to begin with, now is the time to learn as much as you can about AI so that you can enjoy coming into the classroom again. As AI becomes more of a normal part of life, what it means to be a teacher will be redefined – for the better, not worse.

Evgeny Milyutin is the co-founder and CEO of HappyNumbers.com, a technology-driven personal teaching assistant that helps helps K-2 teachers differentiate instruction and deepen students’ conceptual understanding of math.

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