Teachers have unique, sustainable qualities that make their careers less susceptible to disruption by artificial intelligence (AI) than others, as discussed in my previous blog, but we would be unwise to ignore AI given the opportunities it offers our students. “Human plus machine isn’t the future, it’s the present,” Garry Kasparov said in a recent TED talk. Kasparov focussed on the importance of working with AI, and not against it.
In a recent article in Education Review (September, 2017), lecturers in the Connected Intelligence Centre at the University of Technology Sydney made the distinction between using AI as an educational tool and using it as an educational replacement. They demonstrated examples where AI can free teachers from administration and assessment tasks, allowing them to focus on “meta-level skills”, those that are more difficult for computers to emulate. AI can replace routine cognitive processing. These authors suggested an additional example where AI can provide ongoing feedback to students through looking at their data and giving feedback to enable them to have a closer-to-real-time understanding of their strengths and challenges. This way students can adjust their learning more regularly, rather than at more spaced assessment points throughout the semester. These new forms of assessment that measure learning while it is taking place can shape the learning experience in real time. As such, assessment can become more diagnostic, as in medicine, to allow teachers to more easily identify and address individual student needs and provide appropriate supplemental guidance.
In addition to harnessing AI for pedagogy and assessment, the teacher’s role in changing the school curriculum and how the curriculum is taught is vital. Children beginning school today will face radically different workplaces once they finish. AI is not just changing routine manual work, it is also changing routine cognitive work. It is imperative that schools change what students are learning, and this needs to be more wide-ranging than limiting our response to focusing on a STEM agenda. Students need sophisticated cognitive skills and much deeper knowledge if they are going to be partners to increasingly intelligent agents and not be put out of work by them. In particular, they will need to be strong where the intelligent agents are, at least for the time being, relatively weak, i.e. in areas like creativity and imagination.
A number of writers emphasise the need for the curriculum to focus on what have been called ‘21st century’ skills such as active learning, critical thinking and complex problem solving, in addition to developing curiosity, creativity, and collaboration (e.g., Productivity Commission, 2017). In addition, the Foundation for Young Australians (fya.org.au) has prepared a series of reports on what was termed the New Work Order. These reports aim to support young people to navigate the new work order and ensure young Australians have the skills and experience for the jobs of the future. They also aim to help young people thrive in the new work order by identifying “the new work smarts” which are identified as “Smart Learning, Smart Thinking and Smart Doing”. Similarly, Deloitte Access Economics (2017) recently documented what they termed “soft skills” for business success. These include self-management, communication, teamwork, problem solving, digital literacy, critical thinking, innovation, emotional judgement, global citizenship, professional ethics, and enterprise skills.
The areas where AI and robotics will struggle to replace humans revolve around unique human-to-human interactions, such as knowing when not to speak, listening with empathy, exchanging a look or a smile or delivering a well-executed joke. These skills, in conjunction with those previously discussed, will be essential for humans to stay one step ahead of the machines that will be performing many of the jobs.
The opportunities and challenges afforded by AI can engender mixed responses, including excitement, uncertainty and fear. How are you and your colleagues currently building your own capacities in the changing digital world? I look forward to discussing this with you in my next blog.
Deloitte Access Economics. (2017). Soft skills for business success. https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/soft-skills-business-success.html
Foundation for Young Australians. (2015). The new work order: Ensuring young Australians have skills and experience for the jobs of the future, not the past. https://www.fya.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/fya-future-of-work-report-final-lr.pdf
Foundation for Young Australians. (2017). The new work smarts: Thriving in the new work order. https://www.fya.org.au/report/the-new-work-smarts/
Productivity Commission. (2017). Shifting the Dial: 5 Year Productivity Review, Report No. 84. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.