Friday, September 24, 2021

An AI Tutor for CS Education

Recently I came across a Microsoft Research project called AI for Programming Education. The project “goal is to build a personalized and autonomous intelligent teaching assistant (an AI Tutor) for programming education, enabling on-demand education.”

It’s an intriguing and I think ambiguous idea. I tend to be skeptical of AI tutors as a general idea. A half dozen years or so ago I attended a workshop at Microsoft Research dealing with hinting systems. In other words, how can the computer give hints to beginners. I wrote about hinting systems and the workshop here.

The tl;dr is that it is a hard problem. No surprise to teachers of course. Knowing when to hint and how much to hint is a tough problem for human teachers. For a computer AI it is going to be harder still. That’s just one part of what an AI tutor would have to be able to do.

I don’t know any more about the project than what I read on the web page (link above) and that they are looking for a CS Education researcher to help with pedagogy. CS Education/Pedagogy Research Internship Opportunity at Microsoft (AI-driven Program Synthesis in the PROSE team) That is an encouraging move.

With more and more of education moving to the cloud, more and more online curriculum being developed, and systems that are getting smarter about helping programmers to write code (IntelliCode Completion In Visual Studio (Preview) 2022), creating an AI tutor seems like a logical project to take on. I assume papers will be published. I look forward to reading more about this project over time.


Doug said...

That's an interesting concept, Alfred. Tongue in cheek first response was that there would be no generation of new knowledge or thought if the AI draws on its own and other's experiences.

I could see both sides on this one; it would save the classroom teacher all kinds of time answering the same silly question over and over again. I like that. What I wouldn't like is a reliance on AI instead of deep conversations with the teacher where the teacher gets to learn and appreciate the student and all that she/he brings to the classroom.

Of course, Computer Sciene wouldn't be the only discipline that such a tutor could be used. At university, some of my best times were spent in sessions with a TA. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

mark said...

Worked on this in the 1970’s — but the AI is more capable now. It is still way harder to do well than most people realize.

Chris Born said...

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