By: Anagha

Where it all began

AI changed the face of education in the last 15 years, and there are a number of factors behind its success. First, AI makes things smoother for everyone involved – from educators to learners to administrators. Second, it offers a deeply personalised experience at all levels. In the last few decades, these factors allowed AI to take its roots in the future of education

The Relationship Between MOOCs and AI

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are one of the most popular ways of distance learning today. Across the world, top universities are adapting their curriculum into MOOCs to make world-class education accessible to every learner – no matter where they are. 

MOOCs have become massively popular among students and administrators for many reasons:

1 – They help learners level up and build new skills that could help them grow in their careers 

2 – They’re flexible, and allow students to learn at their own pace 

On the flipside, these same factors can also make MOOCs challenging for trainers and course developers. Most learners don’t complete a MOOC all the way to the end; it is hard for educators to keep track of every learner’s progress and find ways to make the course more engaging to them. 

The main reason for this is the lack of interaction between teacher and student. From a research paper published in August 2020, Out of the laboratory and into the classroom: the future of artificial intelligence in education by Daniel Schif, it can be gathered that social interactions are crucial to the learning experience. There is a need for intelligent virtual teaching systems, and that’s where the role of AI comes in. 

Recent AI innovations in Education

Let’s look at the case of Jill Watson, Georgia Tech University’s virtual teaching assistant. Jill is a Knowledge Based Artificial Intelligence assistant (KBAI) who has been in use since 2016, the brainchild of Dr. Ashok Goel,  professor in Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech. 

Dr. Goel began working on Jill Watson to add components of personal connection to MOOCs. The main problem with MOOCs, he noticed, was that they couldn’t cater to every individual student’s needs and answer their questions in time. 

Jill Watson was able to build a personal connection with every learner. She answered most of the common questions on the discussion boards, and did so with such precision that most students didn’t even realise that she was a bot. 

So, how did Dr. Goel develop this level of precision? Mainly by feeding the bot with three different forms of each question, to cover all the ways in which a student might ask a routine question.

What lies ahead?

We’ve established that Jill is a true prodigy. Since 2016, many avatars of Jill Watson have come up – each under different names – both online and in-person at the KBAI program at Georgia Tech University. Jill has now collaborated with 50 human teaching assistants, reached a precision of 86%, and interacted with over 4,000 students. In the first week of class alone, Jill answers about one-third of questions related to assignments, projects, and assessments. 

So, what does the road ahead look like? AI has spread its wings over almost every sector, making life easier and more efficient. The learning community is adapting, using AI to achieve its vision of “education for all.” The idea, moving forward, is to build the scalability of virtual teaching assistants like Jill Watson, making learning more fun, accessible and hands-on for every student. 


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