Will Artificial Intelligence replace tutors in the future?

In case you haven’t noticed the trend in movies and series (see: Ex Machina and Black Mirror), the message is clear: Artificial Intelligence will soon become an inevitable part of daily life – whether we like it or not.

As part of this trend, EdTech writer Neil Jarrett recently suggested the ways AI will revolutionize the classroom as we know it. One big way is the shift in how students could use chatbots to understand school material:

Ai driven chatbots are the marketing tool of now, letting brands interact intelligently with consumers through their website or Facebook Messenger. While these bots are designed to produce a specific conversion (inbound traffic to that brand’s website, ordering a product, etc), this same technology can be used for education.

A chatbot within an edtech platform, powered by robust machine learning algorithms, could be able to give students direction and tips on specific types of problems, or connect them with the exact educational resource they need in seconds. This definitely explains why Bill Gates is pouring a fair bit of his fortune into developing education chatbots (3).

As always, Bill’s on to something here. Most of this generation has received academic instruction from a computer, and has used an electronic database for research. But what about when software can provide human-like responses and mimic teacher-student interactions?

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For example, if you run into a difficult math problem on your homework, chatbots can theoretically be a game changer. But there are many factors to consider:

Can chatbots build a rapport with students?

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AI has discrete learning capabilities, but how well can it tap into what a student already knows about their specific problem? Building trust is hard enough to do with human tutors; it’s also a key indicator as to why a student is seeking help: without a level of human interaction, what keeps a student feeling accountable to the integrity of their work?

Can chatbots give students confidence?

It may sound corny, but it’s proven that students perform better when they receive positive reinforcement during individualized tutoring sessions. It’s simple to program phrases like, “keep going, you’re almost there!” into a chatbot’s algorithm. However, AI’s conversational patterns have a ways to go before it can recognize a student’s learning process by the way he/she approaches a problem.

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Can chatbots provide mastery of learning?

How will the AI know when it’s leading you to the answer too quickly without explaining the steps to get there? How can it confirm that the student truly grasps the underlying concepts – so that he/she can apply them to similar problems in a quiz?

These questions are what we already ask of our human private tutors who operate online. As Bill Gates stated in a recent interview,

…There are online services where human tutors walk kids through their math lessons. But by using chatbots, a major area of investment for companies like Facebook and Microsoft, these robo-tutors have the potential to be free — while simultaneously reaching millions of kids.

Until chatbots start eliminating the need for human private instructors, human-operated services like Yup will use the most optimal way of one-to-one learning: world-class human tutors leveraging technology to engage as many students as possible. What a time to be alive!

 

Mobile app tutors are the missing part of the equation

Sprint just announced the launch of its 1Million Project, which will provide mobile devices (along with high speed internet connection) to one million disadvantaged high school students across the country. The program is in line with the federal government’s initiative to increase educational access to low-income households.

But will this effort effectively shorten the “homework gap” that currently hinders students without access to proper after-school help?

Millions of families currently cannot afford to keep a broadband connection at home, so introducing both the device and the data eliminates virtually all cost barriers to reaching the web.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said:

…the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. But it’s a huge problem in America that we have 5 million households with children that lack internet connections. Those kids have a huge disadvantage and we are failing them.

By the start of the 2017-2018 school year, one million kids will have a data-enabled smartphone, tablet or laptop in their hands. Everyone’s happy, right?

Not so fast.

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Many sociologists and education policy wonks have noted that bridging the digital divide doesn’t necessarily address the growing ‘digital inequality’ in our students.

Putting an iPhone in a student’s hand won’t empower them to study.When looking at the full context of a kid’s life circumstances, skills, support groups and intangible factors like confidence and grit, we can understand that not all beneficiaries of this program will be adequately prepared for its intended purpose.

Who’s to say a student won’t go straight to the pawn shop after receiving their phone just to buy dinner?

Only when students see the immense power education can have in changing their lives, will they foster the curiosity to use the internet for informative purposes.

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That’s where mobile tutoring apps come into play. With the daily social frustrations facing children from low-income backgrounds, academics can prove to be an even higher mountain to climb. But when you introduce a one-to-one tutoring style, the increased attention can make confidence skyrocket.

Now imagine a one-to-one tutor (from institutions like MIT and Stanford) available 24/7 on your kid’s mobile device. No car, no long-term fees. Just student and tutor, chipping away at the “impossible” homework problem in math/chemistry/physics.

Otherwise, kids are gonna get all these free phones and just look at memes all day.