Robots to ‘Teach’ in Experiments in New York and California

By Zack
April 11, 2013 10:43 am Last Updated: April 11, 2013 12:37 pm

Robots will be helping teach a range of subjects this year in California and New York classrooms, in an experiment that has been under development for several years.

They won’t be replacing teachers, but helping them by furthering learning.

In one experiment, set to launch in Los Angeles later this spring, a robotic dragon will help teach first-grader about healthy lifestyles, according to the Wall Street Journal. By sharing tips with the dragon on how to prepare for a race, they may take their own lessons to heart, those involved with the experiment hope.

The robots are designed to mimic human behavior, such as :crying out when overeager kids get physical,” according to the Journal.

Sandra Okita,an assistant professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is leading the experiment in New York, will use a $14,000 android nicknamed “Projo” to make errors on purpose when working with students. Students correcting the robot may become more aware of when they make the same mistakes.

“I think the imperfect robot is good for humans,” Ms. Okita said. “It has to be a give-and-take relationship where you influence the robot and the robot influences you.”

Research published in May 2012 shows that cue-giving robots helped students learn. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a robotic teacher that could sense when students were losing focus and could then help them re-engage with a lesson.

This robot mimicked humans by raising its voice at times and using arm gestures, tools teachers use to keep their students engaged. The researchers found that students who were given cues by the robot when their attention span was fading were better at recalling the story than the other groups studied.

“We wanted to look at how learning happens in the real world,” Bilge Mutlu, one of the researchers, told New Scientist,. “What do human teachers do and how can we draw on that to build an educational robot that achieves something similar?”

Other scientists have been working on robot “teachers” since at least 2008, such as a group with UC San Diego.

“Our main goal is to improve robot teachers with these intelligent tutoring systems,” said Jacob Whitehill, a Ph.D. student in computer science and engineering at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering, in 2008. “If the robot teacher is receptive to the students, if they back-up and review when necessary, if they answer questions and ask students questions, then the students feel more involved. And when they’re involved, they’re far more interested and learn more efficiently.”

And schools in Korea have been using robots for years.

In support of robots teaching students, one study even went so far as to ask students whether they would like a robot to learn with or play with them at school. Out of 350 students, ages 8 through 12, in six countries including the United States, almost 40 percent said they wanted a robot to learn with or to play with.