How we can help children engage better in the modern classroom

Original article was published by Tony Hicks on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

How we can help children engage better in the modern classroom

Many students with classroom engagement issues were virtually shoved out into the cold by what COVID-19 did to classroom structure in 2020.

Especially those whose families can’t afford private schooling.

It’s one of the best arguments for school districts to invest in technology that levels the playing field, not only between unequal incomes and resources, but those who struggled with engagement before anyone heard of a coronavirus.

“The challenge is that a classroom full of kids of varied levels is always going to leave some students out while boring others, whether from the student or the teacher perspective; it’s a mess,” says Michael Gamerl, the vice president of business development for AI-tutor company Riiid Labs.

One positive from 2020 is the frank conversations about inequity in institutions long taken for granted. Education certainly qualifies, when it comes to haves and have-nots.

But what about students divided by other factors as well?

“If we say that classes are roughly divided into thirds, then at any time two-thirds of the class is disengaged,” says Gamerl, whose background includes helping first-generation college students reach their goals. “If the teacher were to focus on the struggling students, then the middle and upper sections of the class will be bored or disengaged. Some may even become resentful of the lower level students and possibly the teacher.”

“There’s a class dynamic and social impact to this that is often overlooked,” he says. “We also know that these poor performing students often are from socio-economically struggling families or families of color, which only exacerbates racial and social divide.”

That divide has been highlighted during the pandemic, with wealthy families using knowledge of the system and economic resources to give their children even bigger advantages with private teachers or schools.

“The economic process is at work for private schools, so these challenges are addressed by the school to keep their customers happy,” says Gamerl. “If they have unhappy students or parents, they won’t be able to survive.

“Public schools often find themselves in the business of ‘processing’ students, so they are forced to look at these issues differently or may need to address completely different challenges.”

How can public schools give students the necessary attention? Smaller class sizes are great theoretically, but school districts already have funding issues and teacher shortages.

Gamerl says there’s a natural solution.

“Scalable technology is the perfect solution for this type of problem; kids today are digital natives. They embrace technology and perhaps prefer it, so this allows us to meet them where they are for learning.”

Implementing new tech during a pandemic isn’t easy.

“The scramble to go online was anywhere from barely manageable to disastrous for the majority of schools,” Gamerl says. “Education is the last to integrate technology when compared to other industries, so few were ready to make this leap. Disadvantaged students may not even have internet access at home, so they have trouble completing assignments online while their wealthier counterparts can simply throw money at problems.

“The one good thing is that this has forced everyone to re-think how technology and innovation can help overcome these obstacles; we need to capitalize on that.”

Gamerl compares teachers personalizing education tech to orchestra conductors; every musician has individual needs, based on their instrument.

“Rather than force the woodwinds to play the strings or have an entire section just sit there while others play, technology allows each piece do what it does best while the teacher leads the ensemble,” Gamerl says. “Assign lessons specific to each student and receive real-time feedback on how students are doing, allowing technology to be a partner in engaging students with interactive activities. Think of the possibilities if people truly embrace AI ed tech and maybe even sprinkle in virtual reality.

“There are some amazing things available right now, but what has me more excited are the possibilities.”

At the very least, tech can be a huge boost to teachers by freeing up time by handling tasks like assigning and grading homework.

“AI is unbiased and objective in its evaluation of students,” Gamerl says. “It can also adjust to how students learn, so the idea of personalized learning is not just a concept, but it’s reality as seen in Riiid’s Santa TOEIC app (featuring one-on-one curriculum that measures, then personalizes, learning based on a student’s needs). We’re also working on formative learning applications with the goal of eliminating high-stakes summative tests, which are universally disliked but left in place because there was no alternative.”

Perhaps that’s the good part about rapid change — humans have to adapt.

“It’s a perfect example of how AI education can transform the learning landscape,” says Gamerl. “Riiid Labs is proud to be at the forefront of this revolution.”

Riiid Labs wants to make education as accessible as possible. To see more, visit