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Cover image: The only three class attendants in Dingxi. Source: South China Morning Post

The Gansu province in China is a thriving region. Home to the striking Great Wall and other super popular tourism sights, it hosts millions of visitors in addition to an impressive economy. Gabsu has some of the world’s most beautiful Qilian mountains, another tourist area encompassing a glacier, forest, and grassland.

In addition to being a hotspot for tourists, the Qilian range is where many farming villages are located, including Dingxi. Just a decade ago, the primary school in this village had 300 students.

Today, there are only three.

The children have been taken by their parents who had chosen to migrate to cities. Since the Chinese law prohibits rural schools from closing if there is even one attending student, many would think that the three boys left in the class in Dingxi would not enjoy learning.

But they do.

Thanks to high-bandwidth internet, the classroom is far from being quiet, as the chatter and laughter are coming across the national live streaming network connecting rural schools. This incredible story was originally described in this South China Morning Post article and is just one from a myriad of examples where IT technology is making a big difference in the classroom.

While reviewing all of them is certainly beyond the scope of this article, let’s see some of the most exciting ones showing the importance of IT in the classroom today.

The Arrival of 5G: Will it Enable New Education Technology?

“EdTech systems and tools, no matter how complex, have to run fast,” says Breanne McCaffrey, an educational researcher at WowGrade. “Not only this expands the range of connected devices and classroom technology, but also allows streaming lessons, downloading them faster, and enabling interruption-free remote education.”

That’s why we begin our review with 5G, the fifth-generation of mobile internet technology, which has recently arrived. With its speeds reaching up to 20 times the speeds of 4G connections, it holds a great promise for students learning remotely.

Here are some of the benefits that 5G is supposed to bring:

Enable VR. This technology makes lessons more immersive and increases student engagement, but using it effectively requires transmitting huge data volumes, which is something that 4G cannot always provide

Use of IoT. With improved IoT, educators have more opportunities to create engaging lessons and allow students to manipulate the learning environment

Quality remote education. If it wasn’t for high-speed internet, the children in rural schools like those in Dingxi would not have an opportunity to engage with others. With the arrival of 5G, the range of online educational apps, platforms, and tools they can use will expand.

Already, telecommunications companies are exploring use cases of 5G in the classroom. Australia’s Vodafone branch, for example, is working to improve remote education in the country to improve educational choices.

Artificial Intelligence: Is There a Consensus?

The researchers exploring the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education have found both positive and negative outcomes. The body of the existing knowledge, however, can help us make some educated predictions.

For example, this recent study of AI trends in education completed by an international group of scientists have come to the following conclusions:

– AI will not replace either the traditional learning system or social interaction

– AI should be added to the traditional educational process with gamification etc. to ensure the best educational outcomes in students

– AI can improve the process of measuring the learning process by educators

– AI-based student evaluation systems can’t be absolutely accurate without human assessment.

So, while suggesting that AI could be effective in a number of educational areas, the authors of the study also described the current limitations that should be considered.

Another prominent study published in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education reviewed 2,656 peer-reviewed works on AI in education highlighted the following trends:

– Intelligent tutoring, profiling and prediction, evaluation, and personalization are the four most common educational areas where AI was applied

– Most studies lacked a critical reflection of risks and challenges of AI in education (in fact, less than 2 percent of studies considered that)

– Further study of educational and ethical approaches in the application of AI in education is needed to confirm and validate the effectiveness of AI-based systems in specific scenarios.

These two studies demonstrate the current state of things in the “AI in education” area. For example, personalization is a huge promise of AI, as many teachers are unable to provide tasks suited for each student’s interests and learning styles.

Writing is an excellent example here; to help children with expressing their ideas on paper, educators can use AI to identify writing prompts that could be interesting for each student based on the analysis of their profiles, performance, and interests. At this point, a lack of personalization is a major reason why students use online tools like Trust My Paper, Grammarly, and Grab My Essay to get help with coming up with topics and coping with complex topics.

Even though the research of its effectiveness, ethical implications and pedagogical impact is still fairly limited, we’re seeing major progress in all of these subareas.

IBM is one of the pioneers here. The company’s Watson Education platform is designed to provide educators with insights into student performance and engagement like never before, and it made significant progress already. For example, there have been numerous reports of Watson providing rich insights on student performance and helping with creating personalized experiences.

However, the limitations of Watson are also well-studied.

“Maybe 10 percent, 20 percent, 40 percent of the time [the system] will get it wrong,” Education Week quoted Robert Murphy, a senior policy researcher, as saying. “It will vary by system, but 70 percent of the time they’ll get it right.”

This is consistent with the abovementioned research: The output of AI-based systems and tools should be evaluated by human educators in order to take advantage of the technology-enabled analysis.

So, does AI have a future in education? Absolutely.

With more companies and educational organizations exploring the applications of IT technology, chances are the gap in research will be closed much sooner than expected.

IBM’s on its way to achieving this goal, definitely. The company has recently announced the partnership with other well-known online educational platforms, Edmodo and Scholastic, to improve the AI’s ability to meet the individual needs of students.

Conclusion

So, do IT technologies have the potential to improve education? The answer to this is 100 percent yes. We’ve finally reached the point when our technology can bring quality education to a small group of children in a village far away in the mountains, so it makes perfect sense to continue to develop more capabilities to improve education.

But what about the research being incomplete on technologies like AI? Well, we don’t expect a flawless and lightning-fast implementation because that’s simply impossible. But we’ll get there.

The list of technologies mentioned here is far from exhaustive, but I hope that you agree: IT technology’s promises for education are worth pursuing. In fact, It should – and will – become an inseparable part of educational systems around the world, and this revolution has already begun.

Nicole D.Garrison is a content strategist, writer, and contributor at SupremeDissertations and a number of platforms for marketing specialists. She is a dedicated and experienced author who pays particular attention to quality research. At her free time, Nicole is a passionate runner and a curious beekeeper. Moreover, she runs her own blog LiveInspiredMagazine.


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