By Joyce Mahon,

It is clear that the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on education, which for many has meant an unplanned and rapid move to online and blended learning approaches. In the Summer of 2021 a ‘Machine Learning & AI’ module was developed by PhD student Joyce Mahon at UCD in a collaboration between the SFI CRT in Machine Learning and industry partner Huawei. Joyce is supervised by Dr. Brett Becker and Dr. Brian Mac Namee of the UCD School of Computer Science; and for the duration of this project worked alongside Dr. Keith Quille of TU Dublin, and with student volunteers.

‘Machine Learning & AI’ module was added to the CS_LINC platform developed in 2020 by the CS_INC team in TU Dublin. CS_LINC provides formal computer science curricula through free and easily accessible online modules. As of November 2021, there are over 100 schools registered with approximately 10,000 students enrolled on CS_LINC. 6,973 students from 71 schools and 1 Youthreach Centre are currently registered on the Machine Learning & AI module. Three modules were offered when CS_LINC started in 2020 and 3,000 students from 50 schools enrolled.

The Machine Learning & AI module comprises 8 classes, each 40 minutes in length; and contains lesson plans, presentations, voiceover videos, activities, worksheets and solutions. Advanced supplementary Python code is provided alongside instructions if desired; and any mathematical concepts covered are previously taught to students at lower secondary level. The module is structured as follows: (1) Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, (2) Machine Learning & Data, (3) Data Analysis & Pre-processing, (4) Machine Learning Models 1 -Linear & Logistic Regression, (5) Machine Learning Models 2 – Decision Trees & K-Nearest Neighbor, (6) Neural Networks & Deep Learning, (7) Evaluation & Vision, and (8) Test Your Knowledge. The module requires minimal setup and has no specific software requirements. It aims to demystify some Machine Learning & AI concepts, reduce misconceptions, and provide a clearer pathway for students who wish to pursue computer science at second and/or third level. In addition, it aims to support ’early school leaver’ programs, as well as all students who do not have access to formal computer science education. The module provides a taster for students interested in taking Computer Science for the Leaving Certificate while also giving useful and practical knowledge of how Machine learning & AI are used in the tools and apps that students interact with every day. The module was recently featured in the Irish Independent alongside staff and students of St Conleth’s Community College, Newbridge (The article is available at this link).

Joyce will continue her research in the area of Machine Learning & AI in Education, investigating the potential industry possibilities that related technologies are generating; and the subsequent ethical impacts that they have upon society. Current and future pre-University students are growing up in a world where these technologies are commonplace, and it is important that they not only understand how they work but are equipped to make informed judgements about how they will use them. Hence, she will work to expose a wider and more diverse audience to tools relating to areas such as analytics, speech recognition, and natural language processing. This will be accomplished by developing content and creating opportunities for teachers and students to understand these tools and become involved in their design and application.