Will AI Destroy Education?

AI creates imagination – also in education. While Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), i.e. admission-free online courses, have been part of everyday education for ten years, their support by AI is the latest object of speculation. But isn’t this just another step on a fatal wrong path? VAbove all: Do you have to use AI in education just because AI exists? in the IT-Channel von buchreport.de warns the US computer science professor Moshe Y. Vardi from thinking that sees IT in education primarily as a means of saving. In the case of AI, too, this way of thinking would be doomed to fail.

Artificial intelligence is ubiquitous these days. The National AI Initiative Act became law in the United States on January 1, 2021, and aims to “accelerate research into and application of AI for the nation’s economic prosperity and national security.” the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) founded several AI research institutes in 2020 to push the frontiers of artificial intelligence. They are now looking for tasks. One of the topics of this research initiative is “AI-Augmented Learning”, i.e. learning that is supported by artificial intelligence.

Technocracy in education – not a new story

Such a drive to improve education through technology reminds me of The Technological Olympiad, a sci-fi story by Isaac Asimov from 1957. The story takes place in the 66th century, where children are taught via a direct computer-brain interface, a process there called “taping”.

At the end of the story, the protagonist realizes that, unlike “taping,” reading books produces men and women with the capacity for original thought.

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This 1957 warning against a technocratic, solution-oriented approach to education—perhaps in response to a post-Sputnik US push for educational technology—is probably more relevant today than it was then. Finally voiced Facebook 15 years ago the nice-sounding goal of “making the world more open and networked”. In 2021, however, mass leaked internal documents revealed that the company was aware of the serious societal harm being caused by its technology but ignored it in the quest for profit.

IT basics and technologies of the future

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Educational technocracy: the first wave

In fact, a first wave of educational technocracy swept over us in the fall of 2011. For example, it resulted in about 450,000 students signing up for three of the Stanford University registered for the IT courses offered and triggered the MOOC tsunami with the ambitious goal of “achieving the quality of individual tutoring”.

In 2012 I wrote a column entitled “Will MOOCs destroy science?” (English) written. In this I showed that the tremendous excitement surrounding MOOCs is not due to the intrinsic value of this technology for education, but rather to the alluring possibility of lower costs.

As we now know, MOOCs did not destroy science, probably because of their modest educational value. But they destroyed something else: more than a decade after the 2008-2009 recession, government spending on public higher education in the US remains well below historical levels.

Nonetheless, MOOCs have become a fixture in US higher education. My own institution runs dozens of them. However, while the availability of free or near-free academic courses is beneficial to students, such MOOC-based programs only generate nominal profits. Because they ignore the true costs, those of the necessary high work input of the teachers associated with the production and operation of MOOCs.

AI – a “shiny hammer looking for nails”

AI Augmented Learning seems to be a technology looking for a problem again. The drive comes from the tech industry, for which AI is a new “shiny hammer looking for a nail”. Because the goal of the AI ​​institutes funded by the NSF in this area is “AI-driven innovations to radically improve human learning and education”.

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But do we know what needs to be improved? In the end, how are we supposed to know that we were actually successful?

I see many big questions and few answers:

  • What problems are we trying to solve?
  • How do we measure improvements?
  • Are we trying to improve teaching or replace teachers?
  • What are the drivers? Social Necessity? Technology? Money?
  • Finally, since AI ethics is a hot topic these days, is it ethical to use AI in education without a clear understanding of its benefits?

I suspect the use of AI in education is inevitable and I hope it can be used for good, but these issues need to be addressed.

»Edutech« must be able to solve concrete problems

I believe the key is to only use technology to respond to a well-understood problem.

An example of such use of technology is the Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS)a course at College of Computing of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Masters programs in the US are typically professional programs; many students pursue such professional degrees as a form of further education. However, for many students who have already started a professional career, are often older and support a family, it is difficult to complete such degrees in face-to-face courses.

So the problem that needs to be solved in this case is that of access. how Zvi Galil in its 2020 Communications Viewpoint “OMSCS: The revolution will be digital” (English), OMSCS, launched in 2014, has been able to educate thousands of students at very affordable tuition. So OMSCS seems to be the prediction of a 2016 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education who declared, “MOOCs are dead. Long live online higher education.”

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The education system is one of the treasures of human civilization. However, applying the attitude of “disruptive innovation” to education risks doing enormous damage. Technology can lead to better education, but only if we use it carefully and don’t destroy anything.

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