Improved Knowledge Distillation via Teacher Assistant: Bridging the Gap Between Student and Teacher

arXiv 2019

Despite the fact that deep neural networks are powerful models and achieve appealing results on many tasks, they are too gigantic to be deployed on edge devices like smart-phones or embedded sensor nodes. There has been efforts to compress these networks, and a popular method is knowledge distillation, where a large (a.k.a. teacher) pre-trained network is used to train a smaller (a.k.a. student) network. However, in this paper, we show that the student network performance degrades when the gap between student and teacher is large. Given a fixed student network, one cannot employ an arbitrarily large teacher, or in other words, a teacher can effectively transfer its knowledge to students up to a certain size, not smaller. To alleviate this shortcoming, we introduce multi-step knowledge distillation which employs an intermediate-sized network (a.k.a. teacher assistant) to bridge the gap between the student and the teacher. We study the effect of teacher assistant size and extend the framework to multi-step distillation. Moreover, empirical and theoretical analysis are conducted to analyze the teacher assistant knowledge distillation framework. Extensive experiments on CIFAR-10 and CIFAR-100 datasets and plain CNN and ResNet architectures substantiate the effectiveness of our proposed approach.

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