Education 4.0: Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education – Joe Berry

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Education 4.0 is the term given to a nexus of new and pervasive technologies that is predicted to impact higher education in many ways. Robotics, mixed reality, and hyper connectivity all have a part to play, but it is artificial intelligence, fed by big data and machine learning, that has gained the most headlines.

Bolton College are using an AI assistant to support their students whilst Deakin University have been using a personal assistant for students since 2015. Deakin Genie boasts an intuitive voice-activated interface to enable students to view personalised itineraries, find learning materials or access support services (

These technologies are in their infancy, but it is not a great stretch to imagine this technology delving more deeply into teaching and learning.

AI could learn a student’s study routine and remind them of their goals at optimal times of day.  It could analyse gaps in their academic performance and propose corrective actions informed by big data.  Some believe that these types of advances can democratise higher education, offering the ‘tutorial systems of the elite’ to all (Feldman, 2018).

But the use of artificial intelligence is not without controversy.

Video streaming companies use AI to tailor how their films appear to different viewers. The same film may be displayed with different cover art depending not just on the viewers’ previous choices or favourite actors, but their ethnicity, leading to headlines of ‘Racist AI’.  (The Guardian, 2018)

There have also been accusations of sexism within AI Assistants. A UNESCO report (2019) found that AI programs such as Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa, perpetuate gender stereotypes: “Siri’s ‘female’ obsequiousness – and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women – provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products, pervasive in the technology sector and apparent in digital skills education.”

If we are to unleash Education 4.0 on our students, must we first ensure all biases are eliminated from the software? Or will AI software always be flawed, because of the flawed species that creates it?


UNESCO. 2019.  I’d blush if I could. Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills through Education. [ONLINE] Available at: . [Accessed 24/5/19].

JISC Media. 2018. Personalised AI assistants and automated marking – welcome to Bolton College. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24/5/19].

The Guardian. 2018. Film fans see red over Netflix ‘targeted’ posters for black viewers. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 April 2019].

JISC Media. 2019. Education 4.0: The fourth education revolution?. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 April 2019].

JISC Blog. 2019. The potential of Education 4.0 is huge – the UK must take the lead, now. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 April 2019].

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