Future of Education: Robot Teachers Are In!

August 16, 2016
John Quinn



Kids will soon be facing robotic teachers and more virtual learning. Is this a good sign for the educational sector? Learn more about the future of robotic teachers and how the scholastic world can prepare for this big shift.

In an online course at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a student sent a message to teaching assistants (TA) to request a revision of an assignment. Just minutes later, Jill Watson, one of the nine TAs, replied, “Unfortunately, there is not a way to edit submitted feedback.”

This scenario has been common in the class since January. Their subject was about artificial intelligence, and ‘Ms. Watson’ was among the most helpful of TAs. She also reminded students of their deadlines and posted questions often in order to spark conversations with the class.

Around three months later, near the end of April, the students found out that they had been assisted by a robot all along. Jill Watson, named after IBM’s Watson analytics system, is a robot TA that was active in the class’ online forum where students had discussions about coursework and projects.

Albeit some of the students had their suspicions, they were still astonished when they learned about their TA. A student remarked, “It seemed very much like a normal conversation with a human being,” whilst another said, “I was flabbergasted,” and one even went on with “Just when I wanted to nominate Jill Watson as an outstanding TA.”

Ashok Goel, the computer science professor behind the deployment of Ms. Watson, expects that within one year, the robot TA will be able to handle 40% of all the students’ questions, which reach about 10,000 messages per semester.

Ms. Watson is also running in an advanced level, responding only if she has a confidence rate of 97%. This means that she teaches relevant, useful info like an expert on the topic. And maybe someday, similar machines will replace even the likes of O2 Gurus and other tech experts themselves.

On the other hand, more face-to-face interaction with robots has been undertaken by an educational tech company. RobotLab uses robots in more than 1,000 K-12 schools across the US.

These robots cover reading and writing in the primary level, basic math and geometry in secondary, and Algebra, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and Physics in high school. More content is added to the robots’ capabilities regularly.

The company notices that humanoid robots are increasingly being utilized in schools, as children seem to engage themselves easily with robots. They get very interested and hooked into their machine friends, and as a result, they’re more eager to learn.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a boy robot helps kids with autism and teaches him about human emotions and feelings. The University of Hertfordshire gave rise to KASPAR in 2005, and since then, the robot has been used in nurseries and schools to teach children about human interaction.

Here’s a video of KASPAR in action:


As of today, these robots are connected to computer systems for operation, but with the rapid advancement in technology, pretty soon people will be able to control these machines even through smartphones. With all the updates for premium devices through carrier registration or manual download, it won’t be surprising if apps for using robots will soon be available.

In fact, researchers at the University of Texas have already shown a proof-of-concept program for Cloud-based Advanced Robotics Laboratory (CARL). The software enables operators to control robots via mobile devices.

On a closing note, given that the educational sector is steadily embracing the idea of using robots for teaching, perhaps a day will come when students in a class will be greeted by a teacher or professor not of flesh, bones, and blood, but of wires, computer chips, and metal.

Exclusively submitted to Zyrobotics

Written by TechnologyGirlJ