How do you say ‘thank you’ to a teacher? That’s a debatable topic for two events this May. National Teacher Appreciation Week is May 3-7, and National Teacher Day is May 4.

Normally, this day and week would be highlighted with tokens of appreciation from students, parents, and staff in order to highlight the high bar continually exceeded when teachers educate tomorrow’s leaders. But with the pandemic making a slow retreat, many annual traditions to celebrate this day and this week have been canceled or have fallen by the wayside.

Artificial Intelligence Is Helping Teachers Shape Future Minds

As a single mother of two, I have a unique perspective on the role of teachers. I get to see every weekday how teachers shape future minds.

In addition, I come from a family of teachers; my parents, both of my siblings, several aunts and cousins are also educators. I’m proud to be a professor at American Public University, teaching students around the globe and many students who proudly serve our great country.

However, the pandemic has shifted our traditional views of learning as the majority of the country’s public schools shifted from in-person to virtual learning. This shift would not have been possible without the ability to utilize technology and AI in the classroom.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is defined as providing computers with the capabilities to think, act and execute like a human. AI and machine learning are often used as interchangeable terms and refer to conducting tasks by executing a series of algorithms.

AI and machine learning are not new, and they have been utilized in U.S. society for over 40 years. From using Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) to voice-activated personal assistants to countless cell phone apps, AI is a prevalent part of our culture. As e-commerce continues to flourish, using AI to make purchases has become part of our daily activities.

AI and Preventing Academic Burnout

AI can also help with academic burnout. For example, AI can help to reclaim and retain teachers by decreasing their workload through automating routine tasks.

There are a large number of teachers to be helped. According to the National Center on Education, there were 3.3 million full-time and part-time traditional public school teachers, 205,600 public charter school teachers, and 509,200 private school teachers in the 2017–18 school year.

According to blogger Jeff Campbell, “66% of teachers want to leave their job and 41.3% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years. Teachers also suffer from higher than average rates of drug and alcohol use. At any given point in time, 36.4% are likely to quit.”

Apathy, exhaustion and under-appreciation can lead to an early exit from the educational field. That in turn can lead to a number of dismal consequences including early retirement, ineffective teaching and drug/alcohol abuse.

AI Improves Virtual Learning

While AI does not solve all of the problems faced by educators, AI can assist teachers in virtual classrooms in several ways:

  1. Attendance: Teachers can use automated technology to take attendance and notify school staff of absences.
  2. Communication: Routine communication is streamlined by providing automated communications.
  3. Homework: Homework is time-stamped to ensure deadlines are met. Homework can also be graded automatically.
  4. Instruction: Non-traditional teaching methods can be used through utilizing breakout rooms in chats, recording lessons, and providing virtual field trips. In addition, asynchronous learning can occur when students at various educational levels can execute activities in real time.
  5. Testing: Testing can occur in the virtual environment.
  6. Group learning: There are apps that allow students to chat with other students in real time to discuss classroom-related activities.
  7. Tutoring: AI enables targeted tutoring in real time to provide specialized support.

AI and Social Challenges

Today, the number of AI-based solutions and projects powered by machine learning is growing exponentially with a focus on the benefits these technologies offer. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to address some of the biggest challenges in education today, innovate teaching and learning practices, and ultimately accelerate the progress towards SDG 4. However, these rapid technological developments inevitably bring multiple risks and challenges, which have so far outpaced policy debates and regulatory frameworks.”

AI Addresses Ethical Challenges

In addition, AI can be used to address many of the ethical challenges in the classroom. Many assignments are literary in nature, and subjective biases can affect a student’s grade. But AI can provide teacherbots that grade assignments according to predetermined criteria, thus eliminating many of the biases encountered in the classroom.

AI can also address interactional fairness. Interactional fairness refers to the nature of an interaction between instructor and students; it encompasses impartiality, respect, concern for students, integrity, and propriety.

According to Stephen Brookfield, author of The Skillful Teacher, “perceptions of unfairness can undermine the trust between student and teacher that is necessary for effective learning. It’s important to carefully monitor one’s behavior and policies to ensure that they are not only, in fact, fair but are perceived as fair by students.”

AI Provides Better Access to Education for Underserved Communities

AI, on a broader scale, has the ability to provide resources for students in rural, low-socioeconomic and disenfranchised communities. For example, the use of AI means that students do not have to miss instruction when there are medical appointments or other activities that take them away from school.

AI also addresses broader issues of disparities in knowledge, research and the diversity of cultural expressions in education. By leveling the playing field with AI, all students have access to the same education at the same time.

AI Helps More Than Teachers

While National Teacher Appreciation Week is dedicated to celebrating teachers, the reality is that there are a team of educators working to create the best learning environment for tomorrow’s leaders. Counselors, nurses, librarians, principals, technology specialists and special topic educators (in areas such as health, ecology and robotics, for example) are all a part of today’s education.

So during this year’s National Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s utilize technology to virtually thank teachers and other educators for their work. Send a simple thank you email, a gift card or a chat message to acknowledge educators’ work that leaves an indelible impression on their students.

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