A portrait of Sophie working at a desk.

Artificial Intelligence and Online Learning

November 5, 2021

My name is Sophie Penner and I am in Grade 12. I have been homeschooled all my life; for the last three years, I have attended an online school and I consider myself fortunate to have had this experience. When the pandemic hit in 2020, online learning and artificial intelligence (AI) were not new to me—in fact, I cannot imagine learning without AI. I have come to rely on it to prepare for classes and build my confidence. AI is built into many online learning programs to provide teachers and students with unique educational opportunities and experiences. It goes beyond the use of computers and the internet: AI is responsive and has helped me in the learning process. While it is unable to replace the personal experience that learning with a teacher provides, AI can enhance learning in physical or virtual environments. This is the experience I would like to share here.

AI provides a wealth of information, so it provides me with opportunities to teach myself. When I am conducting research projects, computer algorithms display content relevant to the subject I am exploring. Google provides thousands of articles related to my search terms, and YouTube suggests videos with similar content to the videos I am watching.

Fear of failure can paralyze students and may keep them from doing well, but practice quizzes with immediate, automatic feedback from AI encourages trial and error without the risk of failure or criticism. I use many different programs to test myself and improve my skills. When I took the Pre-Employment course offered by the Pinnguaq Association, the built-in quizzes would explain correct answers immediately after I submitted my responses to them and, if needed, allowed me to take the quiz again. Online quizzes like Quizlet, Kahoot! and Quizizz are easy to share, so classmates can benefit from learning resources created by individual students. “Practice makes perfect” can truly be achieved with AI because it enables students to practise on their own and receive feedback on their progress.

By using AI to work on my homework assignments, I am able to proceed with confidence. Grammar checkers improve my writing, while videos from YouTubers, Khan Academy and other learning content creators help me to understand content better and communicate more clearly. Have you noticed that Google suggests the ends of your sentences before you have even quite thought them out? That is AI at work and it helps by offering options that can be accepted or rejected. When all this initial work has been done, I love to go to my teacher with confidence to discuss and gain insight from her corrections and suggestions. Teachers cannot be replaced; the key is to use AI to make time with educators more valuable.

AI also can provide significant resources for teachers. Teachers can save time by using computer programs to calculate test grades and check students’ work for plagiarism. As the computer grades tests, it can collect data about how long students spend on individual questions and how many students answered incorrectly. This allows teachers to focus on explaining difficult concepts and also spend time with individual students to work on the specific areas where they are having problems. The personal relationship between a teacher and students is encouraging and holds students accountable. AI supports this relationship. It helps teachers to focus on helping their students with particular difficulties in what they are learning, as well as on encouraging students to try again and keep working on the obstacles they are facing. It gives the teacher time to explain and help overcome particular problems, while AI supports general learning and understanding. Hands-on lessons for subjects like woodworking, mechanics and gym can use AI to prepare students for class. Theoretical knowledge is useful when the goal is success in practical execution; when students have that knowledge in place, teachers are able to focus on individual student’s work.

Many learning forums have comment boxes beneath videos or discussion forums that allow learners to communicate with and help each other. This form of learning allows people to connect around the world and work together, all with the help of AI. I have connected with hundreds of people I have never met in person but, despite the lack of in-person interaction, I have been able to have fun learning with these other online learners.

The wealth of information I can access via the internet, alongside the feedback I receive from computers for my work, has helped to elevate my learning experience online, and made it incredibly meaningful and valuable. Teachers will continue to provide instruction and mentoring that is personal and specific to my needs as a learner; a teacher is someone to whom I am accountable, and human interaction makes learning fun and engaging. AI is a digital tool—and, like any tool, how we choose to understand and use it will determine the opportunities it provides and the experiences we have with it.  

This article originally appeared in the fourth issue of Root & STEM, Pinnguaq’s free print and online STEAM resource supporting educators in teaching digital skills

Sophie Penner

Sophie Penner

About the author

Sophie creates educational videos at Pinnguaq and is interested in math, English, and history. She enjoys creating videos, writing, and spending time in nature. Currently, she is in 12th grade at the Virtual Learning Centre.