For years schooling has been typified by its aspect of the physical grind on the part of both students and their teachers: teachers cull and prepare educational materials, manually grade students’ homework, and provide feedback to the students (and the students' parents) on their learning progress. They may be burdened with an unmanageable number of students, or a wide gulf of varying student learning levels and capabilities in one classroom. Students, on the other hand, have generally been pushed through a “one-size-fits-all” gauntlet of learning, not personalized to their abilities, needs, or learning context. I’m always reminded by this quote by world-renowned education and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson:
Why is there this assumption that we should educate children simply according to how old they are? It's almost as if the most important thing that children have in common is their date of manufacture.
But as the contemporary classroom has become more and more digitized, we’ve seen recent advances in AI and machine learning that are closing in on being able to finally address historical “hand-wrought” challenges – by not only collecting and analyzing data that students generate (such as e-learning log files) when they interact with digital learning systems, but by pulling in large swaths of data from other areas including demographic data of students, educator demographic and performance data, admissions and registration info, human resources information, and so forth.
Quick Review: What is Machine Learning?
Machine learning is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building. Using algorithms that iteratively learn from data, machine learning allows computers to find hidden insights without being explicitly programmed where to look Machine learning works especially well prediction and estimation when the following are true:
- The inputs are well understood. (You have a pretty good idea of what is important but not how to combine them.)
- The output is well understood. (You know what you are trying to model.)
- Experience is available. (You have plenty of examples to train the data.)
The crucible of machine learning consists of capturing and maintaining a rich set of data, and bringing about the serendipitous state of knowledge discovery: the process of parsing through the deluge of Big Data, identifying meaningful patterns within it, and transforming it into a structured knowledge base for future use. As long as the data flows, its application is endless, and we already see it everywhere, from Facebook algorithms to self-driving cars. Today, let’s examine machine learning and its implementation in the field of Education.
Application of Machine Learning in Education
A few years ago, Sotiris Kotsiantis, mathematics professor at the University of Patras, Greece presented a novel case study describing the emerging field of educational data mining, where he explored using students’ key demographic characteristic data and grading data in a small number of written assignments as the data set for a machine learning regression method that can be used to predict a student’s future performance.
In a similar vein, GovHack, Australia's largest open government and open data hackathon included several projects in the education space, including a project that aims to develop a prediction model that can be used by educators, schools, and policy makers to predict the risk of a student to drop out of school.
Springboarding from these two examples, IBM’s Chalapathy Neti recently shared IBM’s vision of Smart Classrooms: cloud-based learning systems that can help teachers identify students who are most at risk of dropping out, why they are struggling, as well as provide insight into the interventions needed to overcome their learning challenges:
The system could also couple a student's goals and interests with data on their learning styles so that teachers can determine what type of content to give the student, and the best way to present it. Imagine an eighth grader who dreams of working in finance but struggles with quadratic and linear equations. The teacher would use this cognitive system to find out the students learning style and develop a plan that addresses their knowledge gaps.
Process efficiency: Scheduling, grading, organization
Elsewhere, several Machine Learning for Education ICML (international machine learning conference) workshops have explored novel machine learning applications designed to benefit the education community, such as:
- Learning analytics that build statistical models of student knowledge to provide computerized and personalized feedback on learning the students’ progress and their instructors
- Content analytics that organize and optimize content items like assessments, textbook sections, lecture videos, etc.
- Scheduling algorithms that search for an optimal and adapted teaching policy that helps students learn more efficiently
- Grading systems that assess and score student responses to assessments and computer assignments at large scale, either automatically or via peer grading
- Cognitive psychology, where data mining is becoming a powerful tool to validate the theories developed in cognitive science and facilitate the development of new theories to improve the learning process and knowledge retention
- Active learning and experimental design, which adaptively select assessments and other learning resources for each student individually to enhance learning efficiency
Recently, digital education venture capitalist Tom Vander Ark shared 8 different areas where leading-edge platforms are already leveraging machine learning in education:
- Content analytics that organize and optimize content modules:
- Learning analytics that track student knowledge and recommend next steps:
- Dynamic scheduling matches students that need help with teachers that have time:
- NewClassrooms uses learning analytics to schedule personalized math learning experiences.
- Grading systems that assess and score student responses to assessments and computer assignments at large scale, either automatically or via peer grading:
- Process intelligence tools analyze large amounts of structured and unstructured data, visualize workflows and identifying new opportunities:
- BrightBytes Clarity reviews research and best practices, creates evidence-based frameworks, and provides a strength gap analysis.
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems like Jenzabar and IBM SPSS helps HigherEd institutions predict enrollment, improve financial aid, boost retention, and enhancing campus security.
- Matching teachers and schools:
- Predictive analytics and data mining to learn from expertise to:
- Lots of back office stuff:
As the modern classroom becomes more and more digitized, we are able to gather myriad sets of data. The trick is, of course, being able to purpose it. The prize at heart of machine learning is knowledge discovery, the process of parsing through the deluge of Big Data, identifying meaningful patterns within it, and transforming it into a structured knowledge base for future use. In this article, we've seen examples utilizing machine learning in the education sector for prediction, scheduling, grading, and organization. We've also listed existing education-related platforms that use a machine learning component.
What does it mean to me?
Big Data have swept into every industry and business function and are now an important factor in production, alongside labor and capital. In a decision making system, the bigger the data, the higher the likelihood is of making good decisions. The time is now for organizations, in education or otherwise, to research how a cost-efficient machine learning component can transform your operational output. Check out our previous article that touches upon how school and district leaders can optimize the data systems to impact student performance.
Parents are continually exposed to new technology via their children. Whether it be iPad App usage tricks, to the advent of robotics competitions, and perhaps now "new ways of thinking" as a result of interaction with Machine Learning based educational environments. Siloed educational content may give way to a topology of learning experinces. O. Liam Wright - CEO, True Interaction
True Interaction produces custom full-stack end-to-end technology solutions across web, desktop and mobile, integrating multiple data sources to create a customized data solution. True Interaction can determine the most optimal means to achieve operational perfection, devising and implementing the right tech stack to fit the specific school and or district need. True Interaction pulls together disparate data sources, fuses together disconnected silos, and does exactly what it takes for school data systems to operate with high levels of efficiency and efficacy, ultimately leading to improved student achievement outcomes.
Contact our team to learn more about how we can optimize your school or district data system.