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China’s New Schoolmarm Is ‘Squirrel AI’

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: MIT Technology Review’s Karen Hao reports on China’s grand experiment in AI education that could reshape how the world learns. “While academics have puzzled over best practices, China hasn’t waited around,” Hao writes. “It’s the world’s biggest experiment on AI in education, and no one can predict the outcome.”

Profiled is Squirrel AI (“We Strive to Provide Every Student an AI Super Teacher!”), which has opened 2,000 learning centers in 200 cities and registered over a million students — equal to New York City’s entire public school system… Hao notes that the earliest efforts to “replicate” teachers date back to the 1970s, when computers first started being used in education. So, will AI-powered learning systems like Squirrel’s deliver on the promise of PLATO’s circa-1975 computer-assisted instruction?

From the article:

Squirrel’s innovation is in its granularity and scale. For every course it offers, its engineering team works with a group of master teachers to subdivide the subject into the smallest possible conceptual pieces. Middle school math, for example, is broken into over 10,000 atomic elements, or “knowledge points,” such as rational numbers, the properties of a triangle, and the Pythagorean theorem. The goal is to diagnose a student’s gaps in understanding as precisely as possible. By comparison, a textbook might divide the same subject into 3,000 points; ALEKS, an adaptive learning platform developed by US-based McGraw-Hill, which inspired Squirrel’s, divides it into roughly 1,000.

Once the knowledge points are set, they are paired with video lectures, notes, worked examples, and practice problems. Their relationships — how they build on each other and overlap — are encoded in a “knowledge graph,” also based on the master teachers’ experience.


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