AI is building the student of the future

AI is building the student of the future
As students develop the critical thinking skills to use AI in a way that benefits their goals, we must consider that AI itself has been changing rapidly.

UAE students are well prepared for the redefinition of education. So far, they've created AI cartoon characters from DIY robot kits, collaborated with entrepreneurs and thought leaders, and even built a teacher using a computer.

By Eva Prabhakar

Published: Sun 6 May 2018, 2:02 PM

Last updated: Sun 6 May 2018, 4:57 PM

When none of the students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, noticed that their teaching assistant, Jill Watson, was actually a robot, the revelation led to many debates about the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the classroom. That Watson's replies to their online queries were on point during the whole semester was quite impressive - and this was four years ago.We have been accustomed to AI-assisted services for so many years now that we barely even pause to consider how intertwined our real, virtual and augmented lives have become. Netflix determines what's played on our screens, Amazon suggests what should be in our shopping carts and Facebook keeps us posted on social information that interests us. When Google Home informs us that there's now an automated police station at City Walk, Dubai, we take it as "the usual" turn of events.When it comes to the education industry too, we have come a long way from localised classrooms - with linear curriculum models - being the only way to learn. Today, blended learning formats are increasingly the norm - students combine courses available from multiple countries, online workshops, local seminars and case competitions to create a credential that's acknowledged globally. They're used to environments such as Ecole 42, a computer programming school in France, where students complete challenges with peers as a learning experience. Our interconnected world - with every possible type of information available on demand - requires students to learn different skills from just 20 years ago.
Redefining the student's role
It follows that our definition of what constitutes an education must change. An outstanding graduate today isn't one who knows something unique or has an area of expertise, it's the one who knows how to extract information from multiple sources and use this towards solving complex problems in an increasingly interconnected world.Enter AI."In a world where machines will take over many of our day-to-day tasks, it's essential that we prepare students with the life skills needed to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (where lines between real and virtual realities have become blurred). We've already started implementing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) based projects so that students can make connections between subjects and can use technology more frequently," says Farida Dhambolawala, Head of Innovation & E-Learning, GEMS Founders School, Dubai.
Adapting to constantly evolving AI
As students develop the critical thinking skills to use AI in a way that benefits their goals, we must consider that AI itself has been changing rapidly. "With increasing advancements in a neural network's ability to test vast amounts of data sets within a set time frame, AI in the foreseeable future will help to create an immersive learning experience for students," says Anik Chatterjee, Engineering student, Manipal University, Dubai. As such, both students and schools will have to adapt to a system where learning isn't just based on thinking, but sensory feelings too. If a student can experience a problem - say, with a simulation - that's what the student will be exceptionally motivated to solve.
Coping with a paradigm shift
Whether a student chooses to solve problems in various fields using AI or creates an AI algorithm itself, understanding how AI works in the first place has become essential. Schools have realised this very quickly, and have been changing curricula to reflect this paradigm shift. "Students today focus on how computer systems work, and how they are designed and programmed. They gain an understanding of computational thinking, which allows them to solve problems, design systems, and most importantly, understand the power and limits of human and machine intelligence. One of our students, Salman Akhtar, has created an AI robot to be a teacher called Lisa using a Rasp-berry Pi," shares Dhambolawala.
Clearly, the emphasis is on applying skills and being hands-on. This is where teachers find their roles have undergone a transformation as well. While current AI has eased tasks for an educator, it's the social interaction in the classroom - physical or virtual - that makes the difference when it comes to the application of AI. "Classrooms now focus on Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL), the use of digital technology, and on students initiating the discussions. The whole idea is to equip students to be able to make judicious decisions on their own, contribute and give back to society. Teachers have also had to 'learn to unlearn'. I think this change has been great because it encourages students to think outside the box, takes the learning experience outside the classroom, and leaves a long-lasting impact," says Anita Mehra, a Dubai-based teacher.
Personalising study materials
"AI is already helping many educational institutions around the UAE to identify learning gaps and turn pedagogical models upside down. The emergence of AI is transforming every aspect of education - from curriculum development all the way to assessment," says Dhambolawala. While schools across the world are adapting to the needs of our current environment, research companies are enabling projects that allow students to extract information of use quickly and efficiently. Content Technologies, Inc., USA, an AI research company, analyses course material and syllabus per subject to generate customized educational content; think: chapters already summarised before an exam - by an AI that understands your learning style.
Supporting innovative thinking 
Governments, too, have been heavily involved in the transformation of the learning experience - February 2018 was called the Innovation Month in the UAE. The Ministry of Finance held events that promoted collaboration between the youth, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders. Young students were provided with a DIY robot kit to create an AI cartoon character. "The Innovation Debate at Madinat Jumeirah in February got our students motivated to think deeply about the pros and cons of AI," says Dhambolawala. As AI evolves, so too is the learning experience - and the student's role. Are you ready to redefine education?

"AI has the potential to bring about a great transformation in the education sector as it gives access to learning opportunities which traditional schooling cannot offer. If the development continues, it could ensure that children all over the world get a truly global experience in their education. AI can connect children with areas of our planet that would have previously been unreachable."
Matthew Burfield, principal/CEO, GEMS Founders School
"At the end of the day, students respond to teachers that they trust, and technology is not going to replace this relationship. Using technology, though, can only enhance the teaching process. So we should embrace what technology can do to complement already existing equations."
Ramesh Mudgal, principal, Global Indian International School
"The UAE education sector has taken a quantum leap forward in the past 35 years. Earlier, we'd follow the conventional methodology of a teacher-led classroom. Now, the focus has shifted to students being largely responsible for their output. Technology allows for experiential learning and the development of student perspectives through work and action."
Anita Mehra, a Dubai-based teacher
"AI driven systems enable students to do online assignments and make recommendations for subsequent stages. They can interface subjects together so that a student learning about speed, distance and time in Physics would get questions connected to the same topics in Mathematics."
Farida Dhambolawala, head of Innovation & E-Learning, GEMS Founders School
"Theoretical knowledge is essential of course, but in order for you to understand the functionality behind AI, practical knowledge is a must. If you're able to figure out the computations by yourself - while observing the process firsthand - it is bound to make you realise the scope of AI and what it can do. Today, Python programming is essential in order to begin your journey towards AI. Frameworks like TensorFlow are a good place to start as well."
Anik Chatterjee, engineering student, Manipal University

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