Artificial intelligence (AI) could help trainee teachers to spot learning difficulties in pupils, a study by academics at the University of Cambridge and the German university LMU Munich shows.
In a trial, 178 trainee teachers identified pupils with potential learning difficulties, and then had their work “marked” by AI.
The researchers found that the approach significantly improved the teachers’ ability to collect and assess evidence about a pupil, and draw appropriate conclusions, so the child can be given tailored support.
The study involved German teachers assessing six fictionalized “simulated” pupils with potential learning difficulties.
The teachers were given examples of pupils’ schoolwork, as well as other information such as behavior records and transcriptions of conversations with parents.
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They then had to decide whether or not each pupil had learning difficulties, such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and explain their reasoning.
After the answers were submitted, half of the trainees received a prototype “expert solution”, written in advance by a qualified professional, and the others received AI-generated feedback, which highlighted the correct parts of their solution and flagged aspects they might have improved .
The trainees then took two similar follow-up tests. The tests were scored by the researchers, who assessed both their “diagnostic accuracy” – whether the trainees had correctly identified cases of dyslexia or ADHD – and their diagnostic reasoning – how well they had used the available evidence to make this judgment.
The average score for diagnostic reasoning among the trainees who had received AI feedback was an estimated 10 percentage points higher than those who had worked with the pre-written expert solutions.
Riikka Hofmann, associate professor at the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, said the findings suggested that AI could provide “an extra level” of individualized feedback to help teachers develop “essential competencies”.
Dr Michael Sailer, senior lecturer at LMU Munich, said: “Obviously, we are not arguing that AI should replace teacher-educators: new teachers still need expert guidance on how to recognize learning difficulties in the first place.
“It does seem, however, that AI-generated feedback helped these trainees to focus on what they really needed to learn. Where personal feedback is not readily available, it could be an effective substitute.”
The study was part of a research project within the Cambridge LMU Strategic Partnership. The AI was developed with support from a team at the Technical University of Darmstadt.
The research has been published in the journal Learning and Instruction.