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Jun 18, 2018 8:45:00 AM Grace Baldwin

How Artificial Intelligence is Shaping the Classroom in China

china_classroom-1-137818-editedIt’s not every day that we get to look into the future of learning. But with recent artificial intelligence development in China’s classrooms, we’re taking a sneak peek of what it will look like.

China is already positioning itself as the powerhouse for artificial intelligence (AI) innovation in general, but the country’s use of the technology in the classroom is trail-blazing. Classrooms in China are now using AI on a scale that other countries just can’t compare to. From AI that grades written responses to facial recognition programs that measure student engagement, China is exploring every opportunity for the use of AI for educational purposes.

Intrigued? We’ll divulge the details on how China is adopting AI in the classroom at such a large scale...and what that means for the rest of the world.

Why is China leading AI applied in education?

Before diving into how China is changing the classroom, it’s worth exploring why they are doing it.

China wants to adopt AI in education as part of a larger government initiative. To put it simply, China wants to help “set the global standard” of AI, and is working nonstop to become the global leader in the technology. To do this, China is adopting AI in every sector, Education included, as well as investing heavily in the technology.

For example, just this month the city of Tianjin announced that it would devote $16 billion USD to support AI initiatives. The ultimate goal is to bring in corporate investments to help the city prosper from AI and boost the city’s technological infrastructure.

Tianjin is also setting up a separate $1.5 billion USD fund to promote intelligent manufacturing—something that would dramatically improve the lives of the city’s 15.5 million residents.

What makes China’s classrooms different from the rest of the world’s?

A combination of a communal mindset and an ambitious government initiative to dominate AI in the next 15-20 years means that Chinese classrooms are vastly different than the ones we all grew up in. Chinese students are some of the first recipients of this innovation wave, both to familiarize them with the technology and test out new ideas.

There are two major technologies that have emerged this year which are shining examples of this change. Both of these examples demonstrate the implementation of AI as a way to help teachers do their job more efficiently.

#1: Facial recognition 

Nobody doubts that teachers have a tough job. Between juggling dozens of students, meeting curriculum demands, and coming up with lessons and tests, they also want to designs lessons that are interactive and interesting to students.

Classrooms in a Hangzhou high school are installing a new facial-recognition technology to help teachers track just this. The program scans the room every 30 seconds and measures specific data about the students.

First, the AI evaluates 6 different types of activities that give teachers insight about what their students are doing. These activities are:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Raising their hand
  • Standing
  • Listening to the teacher
  • Leaning on their desk

Second, the AI reads the facial expressions of each student to determine how they are feeling about the class. The AI can recognize whether a student is happy, upset, angry, afraid, or even disgusted.

Whether or not this AI solution will be useful is yet to be determined.

One one hand, it could help teachers evaluate their teaching styles or even the engagement levels specific lessons that they created. It could also help find students that are struggling and allow the school to follow up if they think the child needs extra attention.

But there are some other questions that we should be asking about this technology. Will students be penalized for slacking off or not appearing engaged in the lesson? Will student data be stored? Will this system actually create more engagement?

Again, these are just a few of the questions that surround this new facial recognition technology. And it is still uncertain whether or not this AI will be adopted in other schools, but it does radically change how students are interacting in the classroom. As EnGadget reports:

“One child told Hangzhou.com, ‘Previously when I had classes that I didn't like very much, I would be lazy and maybe take a nap on the desk or flick through other textbooks. But I don't dare be distracted since the cameras were installed in the classrooms.

#2: AI-powered grading systems

In addition to facial recognition AI, China is testing a new AI-powered grading system. Instead of teachers grading short response questions, a new AI grading technology will take the burden off them.

25% of the schools in China are already testing this AI-powered grading system. That amounts to more than 60,000 schools and 120 million people that are using this technology!  

But the program is controversial for a number of reasons. Most parents and students were not informed about the program and the results of the test will not be released to the public. The data can also only be accessed by a select number of individuals. All of this creates a mystery around the project that only fuels questions, not answers.

There are a number of benefits that could help teachers, the main is free time to actually focus on interacting with students rather than grading papers. In the future, this technology could function as an assistant to a teacher and increase face-to-face interactions with students.

Conclusion

Overall, China is leading the AI revolution in the classroom by examining how AI can better facilitate human connections.

The AI technologies in classrooms might be controversial, but they do show us the future of what the classroom could look like. AI grading could free up time for teachers while facial recognition could help them better understand their students’ needs. In both cases, the education becomes more personal for the students and allows teachers to develop stronger teaching techniques.

At the same time, these tests also show just how advanced China is when it comes to the use of advanced AI in everyday situations. This creates a whole new host of ethical questions about data storage, privacy, and the limits of both.

Ultimately, the Chinese classroom is plowing ahead of classrooms around the world when it comes to the use of AI. The implications of this are still unknown, but it is an important trend that we should pay more attention to.

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