Artificial intelligence software increasingly impacts how students learn. But will students of color from low-income families benefit from these education technology tools?
Written By Nigel Roberts
Artificial intelligence increasingly touches our lives—from driverless cars to interaction with our smart phones.
Dennis Bonilla, executive dean of information systems and technology at the University of Phoenix, told NewsOne that the transformational technology reaches into classrooms and impacts how students learn.
For example, in flipped classrooms, teachers assign students homework that utilizes artificial intelligence technology. The software can send the instructor a detailed analysis of students’ comprehension of the assignment. That can enable the teacher to prepare more effectively for interactive learning the next day in the classroom.
With that data in hand, the teacher can begin her lesson with information that large swaths of students struggled to understand. The software can also recommend student pairings for effective group activities in class.
That scenario, however, is not playing out equally. Many school districts with concentrated populations of low-income and students of color are left out of access to the latest education tools.
Artificial Intelligence and how it’s used in classrooms
Artificial intelligence, or simply AI, is a subset of computer science that involves teaching computers how to learn, reason, and make decisions like humans do. Bonilla said the technology has been around since the 1950s, but advances have led to everyday applications that have made people more aware of the technology.
In the classroom, AI enables customized learning. The software can analyze student comprehension and identify which areas individual students are struggling to master and why he or she has problems learning the material. It can also understand how each student learns and create a roadmap for academic success.
Another application of the technology helps educators improve lesson plans and curriculum. Some of the software can grade and evaluate essays and exams—quickly compiling a database that reveals, among other things, patterns of wrong answers.
Are teachers still needed?
While AI is a powerful tool, it cannot replace teachers. “While machines are better at analyzing data, they lack the social quality of a human being, empathy, the human touch,” said Bonilla.
He explained that job security for teachers is not really a major issue. Rather, technology is transforming the profession. It eliminates time-consuming tasks, such as grading papers. It can also serve as a training tool for inexperienced educators, as well as those with years of experience.
At the same time, the technology addresses the teacher shortage problem by eliminating the need for “lots of teaching bodies” in the classroom.
Some students face barriers to accessing technology
These new education tools will likely bypass scores of students. The cost of purchasing and installing the software means that students in poorly funded school districts will not benefit from AI.
“Yes, it’s expensive, but cost is only part of the problem,” Bonilla stated. “The real issue is how can school systems integrate the technology when they’re challenged by incorporating all the other technology that’s available.”
In general, when it comes to computer science learning, scores of students are left out. A joint survey conducted by Google and Gallup, titled Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in U.S. K-12 Education, found that low-income students and Black students have the least access to computer science education.
What’s more, there are notable differences in the role of technology between school districts in low-income and wealthier school districts.
A Pew survey of nearly 2,500 teachers found that 56 percent of educators who teach low-income students said they cannot incorporate certain technology into their lesson plans because their students lacked resources, such as digital devices and high-speed internet at home.
Bonilla is optimistic that the technology gap will close. He said some large tech companies are underwriting free platforms that will help to make the technology widely available. At the same time, several education nonprofit organizations are helping school districts integrate the technology.