A recent EdTech Magazine article advocates for the rise of AI in the classroom. Often dubbed “bots” in social media circles, these subtle software programs are using algorithms to help teachers measure student performance.

The article marks the inevitable use of AI and bots in the classroom. The education AI movement extends beyond the edtech sector and includes some of the industry’s biggest content providers, like McGraw-Hill.

Uses for AI extend across diverse subjects and tasks. Whether it’s assessments or grading or recommending next levels of content, AI can help a teacher make smart decisions about how to guide a student and/or a classroom.

Of course, the EdTech Magazine article closes with an almost mandatory, semi-comforting phrase: “We will always need teachers and human interaction in the classroom. Anything else does not compute.”

But if that’s the case, how does AI work with a teacher in the classroom?

Rise of the AI Teacher Advisor

IBM launched its Teacher Advisor with Watson AI program to help educators. The program was developed in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers.

With tests in more than 1000 classrooms, the program aims to save elementary school teachers time through formative assessment, lesson planning, and other actions. In essence, Teacher Advisor is the digital equivalent of a teaching assistant.

We like AI teaching tools like this because we know how overburdened teachers are, particularly public school teachers. Whether they have 30 students in elementary school or 120 in high school, personalizing lessons for individual students or small cohorts is challenging.

That is particularly true not just with class and non-class hours, but also during personal time. Teachers are spending as much as five to seven hours per week just looking for new and interesting content. Then they have to assess, integrate, and launch this content. Not to mention their actual grading and teaching work.

If we consider any relief or assistance to be useful, AI can make a teacher’s life much more reasonable.

But can it replace a teacher? Isn’t that the great fear?

The Diamond Age AI Lesson

Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk classic The Diamond Age picks up this very subject. In the book, three young girls are all given the same nanotech primer to help them learn and understand subjects as well as life skills.

How does the AI primer work out for these girls? As you might expect, it works very differently for each individual student.

In fact, it doesn’t matter that the AI alters itself to meet the students’ needs. The students are unique and make different decisions based on their perspective.

While educational, the primer cannot coach the girls well or help them change their life perspective. In some ways, The Diamond Age illustrates the failure of technology to influence our humanity.

In the end, teaching is more than imparting knowledge upon students. A teacher delivers a very real human perspective, either intentionally or through abstract experience. When given the time to focus, teachers perceive a students’ needs, needs that may not be expressed through performance data.

This human interaction may never be replicated by AI. Perhaps this is why we will always need a teacher’s perspective.

What do you think?