As technology plays an increasing role in student education – both inside and outside of the classroom – teachers are turning to AI assistants to help meet students’ needs. But, for the technology to be worthwhile, it needs to be effective.
In a recent study, researchers at the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media examined student perceptions of AI-based teachers and found that for students to accept an AI teaching assistant, it needs to be effective and easy to talk to.
“To use machine teachers effectively, we need to understand students’ perceptions toward machine teachers, their learning experiences with them and more,” said Jihyun Kim, an associate professor in the school and lead author of the study. “This line of research is needed to design effective machine teachers that can actually facilitate positive learning experiences.”
Currently, AI teaching assistants can help teachers by responding to commonly asked questions, a function that’s especially helpful for instructors who teach online classes with hundreds of students. Quick responses not only lighten the teacher’s workload but also help students more easily understand the course material.
For the study, researchers asked respondents – all of whom were students – to read a news article about an AI teaching assistant being used in higher education. Then, respondents were surveyed about their perceptions of the technology.
The finding that an AI-based teaching assistant that students were most likely to accept was one that was useful and was easy to communicate with points to the importance of having an effective AI-system, Kim said.
She added, “I hope our research findings help us find an effective way to incorporate AI agents into education. By adopting an AI agent as an assistant for a simple and repetitive task, teachers would be able to spend more time doing things such as meeting with students and developing teaching strategies that will ultimately help student learning in meaningful ways.”
The study also urges educational institutions to train teachers on how to use an AI teaching assistant in ways that “foster immediacy and social presence.” Further, the researchers noted that existing research has found that when “instructors appear uncomfortable employing a particular pedagogical strategy, student attitudes are also negative.” To combat that concern, the study says that “teacher certification programs ought to add curriculum not only to teach preservice instructors how to use AI effectively but also to realize the value that AI teaching assistants can bring to the teaching and learning experience.”
In addition to training students before they enter the classroom, the study says that current teachers should be offered ongoing professional development trainings on the same subjects. “Failing to do so is essentially setting teachers up for failure, not because AI teaching assistants are ineffective, but because teachers are uninformed about pedagogical best practices in employing them as such,” researchers said.