Before we even started building the AI tutor, the question that drove us was “How do we make great teaching accessible?” This week we look at why this simple question challenges so many issues in education today.
Making great teaching accessible sounds like a government-sponsored initiative, or buzzword depending on your point of view. It was, however, one of the driving principles behind the creation of Emmi.ai, our AI tutor. Before we even thought of developing an intelligent virtual tutor, we looked at some of the key issues that stop students reaching their potential.
Access to great teaching is a fundamental challenge that the majority of students encounter through their school lives. It’s normally dictated by money. Money to afford to live in areas with great state schools, money to afford private tuition or money to attend private schools. It’s great if you have it. But, if you don’t, then it’s likely that the chances of you maximising your potential will be greatly diminished. It’s a real source of frustration that in a supposed level playing field these challenges exist but with financial pressures in all areas, not just for parents, it’s the reality. Unfortunately, it’s also the case that great teaching isn’t universal. This isn’t the fault of the individual teachers. With large class sizes, wildly varying ability levels and a lack of funds to contend with, it’s a thankless task for many.
These barriers hit the less fortunate the hardest. Unlike their better off peers, the inability to create a safety net sees a large percentage of students fail to achieve the results they could. This is equally true of the brightest students from the poorest backgrounds. Without the extra push of tutoring, opportunities at the highest end of education fall out of reach. This narrows future options, restricting choices and potential career opportunities in the process.
The hall marks of great teaching
It was vitally important to us that we understood what made up great teaching and how this could be adapted to a technology environment. We narrowed this to the following elements:
- An ability to set fluid goals based on each individual students needs
- An ability to continually assess student understanding and knowledge
- An ability to build student confidence
- An ability to tailor how a subject is learnt to the needs of each individual student
We then looked at how we could use the technology to enhance the experience. In practice, this meant understanding the weaknesses and advantages of the technology vs a traditional teacher. The challenge here was about motivation: how do we motivate a student to be taught by AI. The answer was about making it easy to pick up on any device and employing scientific principles to the learning method to keep lessons short. In fact, this is where we diverged from teaching in a traditional sense. While students in schools follow a linear course over a couple of years, we made it possible to study in very short bursts. This allows for continually revisiting elements to ensure the knowledge sticks rather than finishing a topic and moving onto the next one and the next one. It’s an important aspect of AI learning because it’s teaching in the most efficient way based on how our brains work. Sadly this is not the case with traditional teaching.
AI is a part of great teaching
Accessibility is a complex issue. But the solution seems almost too simple, making great teaching accessible as a goal means stripping out the barriers. To do this at scale just wouldn’t be possible if people were involved and so technology and artificial intelligence is the obvious answer. It doesn’t mean, as we’ve said a lot, that teachers’ days are numbered. A normal 15 year old still has to go to school and their lessons. The AI tutor is the extra bit of help they need to achieve the most that they are capable of. AI and technology in general gives us the efficiency of scale and the reduction of costs. Simply put, it means it’s far cheaper and has less of the barriers that traditional tutoring and support put up. It means that more students can use it, particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds, which lets more students start making their aspirations the reality.
And that is how we are trying to make great teaching accessible. Emmi.ai is at the forefront of democratising the skewed “level” playing field that parents and students find themselves within the UK education system.