There’s no question the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to everyday life. But it has also spurred rapid growth in technologies
that aim to make everyday life simpler, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Many industries have been fueling this growth, automating processes through AI (the use of computers and machines
to mimic human problem-solving and decision-making abilities).
K–12 education is no exception. As schools rushed to accommodate remote learning with little notice — and maintain a secure online network for students and staff — many incorporated elements of AI
and ML. Between digital assistants, endpoint security, chatbots and more, AI is gaining a foothold in U.S. classrooms.
Here are three trends to look for in 2022:
AI in Digital Assistants Helps K–12 Teachers Manage Classrooms
“Alexa, read us a story.”
That’s one way teachers are using digital assistants, such as the popular Amazon Echo
device — technology that many parents of home-bound students used last year to aid in their children’s educational routines — in the classroom.
One school district in California has integrated this technology even further with the Symphony Classroom device from Merlyn Mind, described as the world’s first digital assistant for education
. The device is powered by Edge AI, combining artificial intelligence with edge computing technology.
It’s a way of getting technology to kids where they’re at and when they need it, says Brian Fish, an English teacher at Rancho Verde High School in California.
“Nothing can replace a teacher. However, technology can expand teaching,” Fish says.
Elsewhere in the Val Verde Unified School District, first grade teacher Jennifer Thornton says it comes in handy in her classroom because she’s never at her desk for very long. Through voice commands, Merlyn — the name given to the AI — can navigate tabs on Thornton’s computer and play or pause a YouTube video for a lesson, for example.
“It’s helped a lot with the classroom management,” she says.
Darren Crist, an elementary special education teacher in the district, also uses it for videos in his classroom. But Merlyn’s best feature, at least for Crist’s students, is its visual timer, which helps them with time management and more.
Crist also assigns students to be in charge of Merlyn as a classroom job, which helps them develop life skills.
“As a special ed teacher I’m focused a lot on, not just the normal standards of academics, but making sure that my kids are able to get some of that executive functioning they might be lacking,” he says.
"Nothing can replace a teacher. However, technology can expand teaching.”
- Brian Fish English teacher, Rancho Verde High School
Next-Generation Cybersecurity Solutions Integrate AI Technology
The use of AI and ML is also shaping cybersecurity and the IT industry
. For example, these technologies “can offer IT security professionals a way to enforce good cybersecurity practices and shrink the attack surface instead of constantly chasing after malicious activity,” BizTech reports.
So, what does that mean for schools?
Between January and May 2020, as the pandemic took root, the use of remote management and collaboration apps increased by 87 percent and 141 percent, respectively, in K–12 schools, according to an Absolute Software survey of more than 10,000 school and district representatives.
Despite the rise in online applications for teaching and learning, “educational institutions are spending more on endpoint security yet gaining less visibility and control. Forty-one percent of schools say tracking devices is one of their most significant challenges,” Forbes reported.
That’s where technology such as next-generation endpoint security comes into play. “This advanced protection leverages artificial intelligence to recognize potentially dangerous threats — both known and unknown — in real time without the need for signatures, increasing speed-to-action via a proactive, streamlined security protocol,” according to a CDW•G white paper.
Cybersecurity solutions powered by AI and ML are becoming more popular in school districts
because they give time back to small IT teams and allow them to scale security with the introduction of large device fleets.
Chatbots Rely on AI to Improve Communication and Tutoring
AI-powered chatbots have been shown to improve classroom efficiency
and help teachers communicate with parents.
Since the onset of the pandemic, even more uses for chatbots have started to gain steam. With tutoring seen as a solution to helping students overcome the COVID-19 learning disruption, chatbots could help bridge the equity gap between students who can’t afford private, traditional tutors and those who can.
“To me, AI is just a set of simple tools that we can use, in this case, to figure out some problems that teachers and kids are persistently having,” researcher Neil Heffernan, a computer science professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, says. “The real magic is giving human tutors and teachers a little bit of information on what’s going on so they can be more efficient.”
Google released a suite of programs for higher education that include virtual assistants and, as of November, an AI tutor. The applications in this software suite, called Student Success Services
, can be customized for use in K–12 classrooms.