Artificial intelligence is playing a major role in the world today. Not only is the technology driving cars, curating our social media feeds, and powering manufacturing robots, it’s also becoming commonplace in education. In fact, a recent IDC study found that "modernized learning and classrooms top the list of use cases for AI-enabled solutions over the next 12 to 18 months."
Already, AI is being applied in classrooms to grade assignments, provide feedback, answer student questions, monitor performance, and to check for plagiarism. But what capacity does AI have for certain areas of study? Specifically, how can AI power learning for STEM subjects? We take a look at the pros and potential barriers below.
AI and Education
According to a study, 92% of schools have integrated AI into their teaching strategies in some form. Its application spans supporting teachers, engaging students, and streamlining administrative tasks. Part of the appeal of AI is that it can carry out tasks with impressive accuracy and at scale—for institutions that have to manage large amounts of students, that translates to fewer human errors and more efficient processes. Some of the most common use cases of AI in education include:
- Assistive technology – AI facilitates more accessible education by reading text passages to students with visual impairments.
- Personalized feedback – AI can generate tailored advice to individual students, helping them improve based on their past assessments and preferred learning style.
- Interactive learning – AI is the technical foundation for sophisticated learning models that more deeply engage students and make more complex topics more digestible.
- Data analytics – AI can process and organize large data sets, helping educators identify trends and make sound predictions; for example, around student attendance and setting grade predictions.
- Plagiarism detection – AI can automatically scan students’ work and recognize if parts or total projects have been copied from other assignments or online resources.
- Facilities scheduling – AI can monitor WiFi, water services, and other maintenance within a school, and alert the appropriate people when fixes are due or problems could arise.
AI and STEM Subjects
While there is little doubt that AI presents opportunities to optimize education and keep students up to date with cutting-edge solutions in a technology-driven world, AI has yet to be fully explored in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Still, AI makes sense in STEM because many of the jobs that STEM students will find themselves in will require using AI. For example, the likes of biologists, civil engineers, computer scientists, and geologists all use AI in their work. STEM is also rooted in innovation—a concept that AI plays a big role in pushing forward.
The benefits that AI brings to STEM are vast, but a few of the most notable are:
Customized Learning Pathways For Complex Topics
STEM subjects can be complicated, but with AI solutions, topics and tasks can be broken down into clear information that is delivered to each student in the best way possible. For example, AI could generate quizzes for STEM classes, ensuring that concepts are explained in a bitesize manner, and that students can closely connect with, and test, their knowledge.
Accessible STEM Education
Rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all teaching model that may exclude students with different learning styles or those with physical and cognitive disabilities, AI can produce STEM content that accommodates everyone. Educational chatbots give students round-the-clock support with assignments, AI-powered speech recognition caters to students with mobility limitations, and virtual simulations support STEM students who are visual learners (making abstract STEM concepts more tangible).
Despite often being considered more analytical, STEM subjects boast plenty of room for creativity. With AI, students can explore their creativity through games, interactive tasks, robotics, and smart solutions. For example, students can program Sphero robots to pass through a maze, swim across a pool of water, or even dance. Not only does AI in this scenario bolster creativity, but it also cultivates essential problem-solving skills.
Improved Accuracy Rates in Grading
Teachers have heavy workloads, and in STEM subjects assignments and pending activities can quickly add up for educators. AI, however, has a high rate of accuracy in practical applications, meaning that it can produce correct and timely feedback for STEM students. This heightened accuracy rate allows teachers to more easily pinpoint which students need additional assistance, plus have more time to focus on other priorities.
Close the Skills Gap in the Future Workforce
There is currently a gap in AI education—demand for AI workers is high but there aren’t sufficiently skilled people to fill it. Integrating AI in STEM subjects gives students the opportunity from a young age to be familiar with AI practices and translate that into their later working lives.
Even if students don’t enter a space with AI products, having a granular understanding of the tech empowers them to make decisions and be leaders in the talent pool of tomorrow.
Potential Issues With AI in STEM
Like any emerging technology and new application, there are some challenges that lie ahead for AI in STEM. For one, STEM content needs to be converted into machine-readable formats in order for AI to process the information. At the moment, much of the STEM content available has not been developed for machine learning. As a result, there needs to be an initial transformation phase where STEM content is made compatible with AI, and all new STEM content is framed within that mindset as well.
Another noticeable obstacle is the cost of AI. Purchasing and training AI machines and solutions is expensive and many public institutions don’t have budgets that can cover the price tag. That said, as AI continues to grow as a baseline tool in education, more affordable versions of tech will be developed and leveraged by more schools.
Similar to other applications of AI, the content and data that feeds it has to be held to a high standard. STEM content, therefore, has to be reviewed for AI insights to be trustworthy and representative. There are also yet to be ethical parameters for AI’s application in STEM.
While these issues with AI in STEM are important, they should not override the clear advantages of the technology in the field. AI has already proven its value in education, and with fine-tuning it can accelerate students’ learning, inclusion, and future prospects in STEM.
Uncover more ways that AI is evolving STEM learning—browse Sphero robotics and activities.