This App Will Make You a Calculus Wiz Using AI Technology

Photo Courtesy of Zenon Group/Women.com

Understanding calculus has never been easier!

Aida Calculus Is the App Helping Women Pursue Careers in STEM

Calculus.

If your heart didn't start racing, palms didn't start sweating, and stomach didn't start turning from seeing the word, you're one brave soul. But if you're part of the vast majority of people who've had nightmares over the subject, you understand how truly terrifying calculus is.

This branch of mathematics is fairly difficult for many people to understand, with tutors and teachers alike struggling to help those who are, well, struggling with the material.

Pearson, the world's learning company, has developed a handy-dandy solution in the form of an app. Aida Calculus is the answer to all your calculus prayers.

Utilizing AI technology to create a personalized study course unique to each user, you'll finally see the light when it comes to understanding calculus. Apart from helping with all your mathematical needs, the app aims to inspire women to continue pursuing careers in STEM or even change careers into a STEM-related field. We all know we can use more women in STEM.

As it's National STEM Day, we figured the best way to learn even more about how Aida Calculus was by chatting with the Senior Vice President of AI Products and Solutions at Pearson, Milena Marinova.

From how the app came to be to how it will specifically help women who want to pursue STEM careers, Milena told us everything we need to about the app and then some. Read our exclusive interview below!

Photo Courtesy of Zenon Group/Women.com

Women.com: Can you tell me a little bit about how Aida Calculus came to be?

Milena Marinova: I am obsessed with relevant innovation and always have been, from figuring out a mathematical problem to envisioning something impactful. The vision for Aida is to engage anyone who is curious to try and see the beauty and joy of math in the real world. I sincerely hope that 2019 will be remembered as the year of the Aida launch—a turning point in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for good and the first meaningful AI advancement in education.

Aida Calculus is the first mobile AI tutor that provides personalized help adapted to users’ learning patterns and gives them step-by-step feedback on calculus problem solving.

It was developed out of a need to solve a problem in the STEM pipeline. For millions of people, calculus has been a frustrating barrier to a STEM career. At least one semester of calculus is needed for almost all STEM majors, but nearly a third of calculus students in the US will fail or drop the course out of frustration. We should stop looking at calculus as a way to filter students out of STEM and start looking at it as a way to help more people—including both students and professionals looking to pivot careers—move into STEM.

WDC: How is the app different than other tutoring-based products out there?

MM: Aida is the first AI-powered mobile calculus tutor, providing personalized instruction in calculus. Students get help from Aida by typing in steps from their solution or taking a photo of their handwritten work. Aida uses advanced algorithms in deep learning to analyze a student’s response and provide feedback on each line of their handwritten or typed solution. Aida immediately gives students hints and recommendations, based on best practices from cognitive and learning sciences. Over time, Aida learns what approaches work best for each student by using customized models from reinforcement learning. The app then serves up the most effective suggestions for practice problems, related examples, or videos explaining how the concept works in the real world. This allows a student to better understand the material and gives them a truly personalized experience.

WDC: How did the current AI technology in the app get to where it is?

MM: Aida is the first educational product to use multiple AI algorithms, in a complex and dynamic interplay, to provide such a highly personalized experience for learners. We are the first company to apply this level of innovation in the education space and it has been a highly complicated development.

Students have been fundamental to the development of Aida Calculus throughout its beta trial. Students who have tested the app have been essential to fine-tuning the handwriting recognition feature of Aida. The feature converts real student handwriting into custom fonts that the deep learning models can be trained on. Aida deploys these models for inference line by line in a problem that a student solves, making the recognition more accurate. A different deep learning model is parsing each line through a math engine to provide valuable step-by-step feedback. This was one of the most difficult capabilities to build. Our team is continually iterating on improvements and new features as students interact with Aida.

Designing a learning experience this complex isn’t easy and Aida will take some time to perfect, even after it launches in the app store. But I hope this experience will prove impactful and worthwhile for students in the long run.

WDC: What's a common misconception people might have about the app that should be debunked?

MM: A lot of people worry that technology will one day replace teachers in the classroom or humans who work as tutors. Our belief in designing learning technology is just the opposite. Our intent is that technology and AI will be used for good and that it will enhance both the teaching and the learning experience.

Aida is a great tool for teachers to recommend to students, as it enables students to learn outside the classroom. Aida is designed to complement and support teachers, offering help when no other options are available.

WDC: How many women were involved in the development of Aida?

MM: As head of AI Products and Solutions at Pearson, I spearheaded the development of Aida with a core team of leaders who manage their diverse and fairly balanced teams of nearly equal participation, especially our data science group who is 45 percent female. My larger role at Pearson is to shape and drive AI strategy and innovation, and to partner with product leaders to execute on key AI projects and priorities from pilots to commercialization.

We also have one other important partner who was always with us in spirit, Ada Lovelace, the legendary female mathematician. We combined AI and Ada to spell the "Aida" in tribute to this mathematical pioneer. Lovelace is widely considered the world’s first computer programmer after writing the algorithms and calculations to run the first, rudimentary computers in the early 1800s. We’re especially excited that the name highlights the important role women play in STEM, and we hope it serves as an inspiration for women to tackle math.

WDC: How will Aida Calculus specifically help women pursue careers in STEM?

MM: According to a 2016 study funded by the National Science Foundation, women are 1.5 times more likely than men to drop out of calculus. It’s often because of a lack of confidence, not ability. At Pearson, we believe math is a skill that can be developed with the proper tools and we want to increase women’s confidence in their ability to learn and understand calculus, ultimately acting as a catalyst for them to enter into the STEM profession of their choice.

WDC: Other than better understanding calculus, what do you hope users take away from their experience with the app?

MM: We are excited to see AI breaking through in education, and Aida is on the cutting edge of putting that technology into the hands of learners across the country and globally. With Aida Calculus, Pearson has already applied AI to one of the most difficult math disciplines.

Aida Calculus is the first of Pearson’s AI products and solutions that will help students get real-time feedback and personalized learning.

Aida is not just for college students, it can also help bridge the gap for people looking to pivot careers and break into STEM. Along with excelling in calculus and reaching larger career goals, I hope users enjoy the flexibility of using the app and its original content at their own pace.

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