Is this school’s use of AI a good idea?

Is this school’s use of AI a good idea?

According to the Express & Star, Smestow Academy will be the first UK school to use MyViewBoard Sens (Oct 23, 2021). This technology, apparently used mostly in China, places a camera in every classroom to measure levels of student engagement using the latest AI technology. Having not had a response from the school for an update on the project, they have either changed their minds or keeping quiet about it.

Judging by the news source, headteacher Mr Jones is very excited about his Black Country school being “chosen” to use the technology because it is happening outside of London. What the article doesn’t ask is “why is no other school in the UK interested?”

On the face of it, the technology has laudable aims. It helps everyone figure out which lessons are engaging, which are not and also considers the impact of CO2 levels and light levels. With so much of our technology use already being monitored, is this something the world is ready to accept?

To some extent our lives are already covertly monitored through trackers that know which web sites we’ve visited, mobile phone ‘pings’ recording which masts we are closest to, and analysis of our interaction with social media. But is MyViewBoard’s overt presence in classrooms a step too far?

This video might help you to decide. It is not about the MyViewBoard Sens system, but the core idea is the same.

Such technology undoubtedly puts pressure on students and is a tool that could easily be used to chastise those that the AI thinks are not paying attention. And what if such data was used to produce a grade that students are expected to state when applying for a job?

When students are not engaging, who is at fault? The accuracy of the AI? The teacher? The availability of engaging resources? Outside situations such as a family breakup…? If teachers and students know their every little action is going to be analysed then one can imagine it causing stress and no-one wanting to teach. There are many good reasons why students might not be totally engaged every minute of the day which is beyond what AI can fathom.

Like a lot of technology, it can be used for good and bad. And as technology gets bigger, the degree of good and evil gets bigger at the same time. Computer viruses have caused havoc with oil companies and taken down computers in the NHS. A lot of weighing up will have to be done to see if this AI technology such as described above is worth having or not.

People have always been scared of technology. Luddites smashed up weaving machines to try and protect their manual weaving jobs. The advent of business computers saw people put out of a job. But technology has also created jobs, albeit many requiring specialist skills. There is a good case for technology helping humankind. However the promise of technology being able to increase leisure time for everyone remains unfulfilled as by and large; we still have the traditional 5-day working week. Will fears of how AI can be used to track student engagement in class be realised?

Dystopian works of fiction have warned us of the ability of technology to control others -to make us numb, to treat humans like robots and remove all sense of privacy. Huxley’s “Brave New World” and modern novels, Dave Egger’s “The Circle” come to mind as examples.

In this specific case of using AI to monitor student engagement, is this something that will be useful or another step towards a dystopian world? Quite frankly I find it disconcerting.

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