A recent study, published in the Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience Journal, claims that using robotic tutors in the classroom might help pupils learn better, faster, and with a lot more enthusiasm and motivation.

The prototype was developed in Madrid, at the Center of Artificial Intelligence, and it is targeted at pupils in primary schools and their reaction to a robot tutor with educational software integrated. The system uses an integrated computational architecture, also known as ARTIE, and it has one goal – to improve learning in schools.


Online learning has gone mainstream

Many schools today use online educational resources to helps students learn better; when pupils are not pressured to study, they do it a lot more efficiently. However, in primary school kids are sensitive. They don’t have the capacity to fully understand the great potential advanced technology has. That’s why robot tutors can assist teachers to make the process smoother and less scary.

Rather than center on specific emotions, researchers thought that it was a better idea to identify a learner’s three main cognitive states: distraction, inactivity, and concentration. Together these three influence and affect learning. Mouse actions and keyboard strokes made by kids using educational software had an important role in predicting which of the 3 states the child is mostly linked to. In this case, we can either talk about gestures, word, or attempts to increase motivation and interest for a particular learning objective. All of them can easily be handled by a robot tutor.


Introducing “Monica”, the first robot tutor

In the research paper published at the Center of Artificial Intelligence in Madrid, the developers described a perfect example. They came up with a robot tutor and they named it Monica. The robot had educational software installed (Scratch) and connected to a commercial available robot. Monica went through a lot of tests, the most important being on two volunteers in primary schools with different cognitive learning abilities.

The two kids had fun listening to robot, and they wanted “her” to be around them as they studied. However, despite feeling more relaxed and less pressured, the kids mentioned that they would have liked to study with a normal teacher. Monica was a first prototype and the researchers expected the kids not to like “her” so much. But it’s a step forward, and it’s a clear sign that there’s plenty of room for the technology to grow in the classroom and eventually have the capacity to change perceptions.

Advanced technology gains the spotlight in the classroom

“Monica” the tutor robot was just the beginning. Great things will probably come next, although we won’t be seeing teaching robots wondering schools any time soon. Nevertheless, researchers are working closely with software developers on the idea that technology should belong among pupils. A next step could be implementing a more advanced and complex set of emotions with microphones and cameras; tests must be performed as well to assess a pupil’s reaction to these “teaching robots”.

Teachers should be rest-assured that nobody will take away their jobs; at least not right now, maybe in 100 years or so. Their role might be outstanding in the future because as artificial intelligence develops, we can’t hide the fact that computers are getting smarter. It’s very important to stay focused, and not use technology in the class for all the wrong reasons. Many parents don’t like gadgets because they believe they’re too distracting. It’s true, but it’s up to the teacher to set some boundaries and not allow tablets and computers to be used for game playing.


Bottom line is, we can’t know for sure whether robotic tutors are good or bad. What we can say is that there’s more to the technology than meets the eye. With the development of artificial intelligence, everything’s possible. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Until robots become our kids’ teachers, we should try and limit access. However, don’t be too strict on your kids. Show them that there are ways to use their iPads other than for playing games or pupil tracking. Reading can be just as fun. Start small and be understanding, and soon enough your kids might just become bookworms with a weakness for the best books.

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About the Author
Author: Michael ClarkWebsite: http://www.educater.co.uk/
Michael Clark is a regular contributor at many sites and mainly focuses on technology related topics. He also writes for Educater website providing school management and communication management software.

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