Edgeucation Blog

Teacher Robots Show Promise for Education

April 29, 2017

Thom Markham

Image of robot for project based learning

By Thom Markham

FN News Group

In a move cheered by education advocates for standardized learning, education officials somewhere announced today that the robotics revolution has finally reached the classroom. In numerous districts across the U.S., teachers will be replaced by highly programmed robots capable of delivering core content and dense packets of fact-based information to inquisitive students.

“Today we are finally unleashing the power of technology to prepare the next generation of Americans for work and life in the 21st Century,” said one expert, citing other experts. “Our country is dependent on the ability of our young people to regurgitate information that allows them to excel on tests. Robots are the perfect vehicle to deliver a seamless, question less curriculum that maximizes short term retention.”

Experts reviewing the work of other experts agreed. “Eventually, students will be able to link their smart devices to robots through summer vacation,” one remarked, “This should completely alleviate the problem of summer learning loss.”

Not all educators agree with this approach. Arguing that robotic teaching ignores the need for inquiry and project based learning to meet the needs of diverse learners and stimulate critical thinking, many critics point to key areas in which robots cannot match the skills of a human teacher. “How can a robot soothe a 2nd grader who’s having a bad day?” asked one veteran elementary teacher. During layoff meetings and at staff meetings that have turned angry and bitter at times, technologists have responded that logarithms are improving at exponential speed. “I am confident that by next year, we will have a functional robot capable of identifying with 100% accuracy students with hoodies over their head who are asleep in the back row,” said one spokesperson from EyesAtTheBackOfMyHead, one of many startup firms anxious to enter the growing EdTech market.

The critical area of concern for human teachers is the ability of robotic teachers to respond to student questions. Early robot prototypes lent weight to this argument, as robots proved unable to answer simple questions like, “Is this fake news or true?” Long considered a staple of quality education, many human teachers have pushed for more questions, not fewer, in 21st Century classrooms. “How will kids know the motivation of Atticus Finch if they can’t ask?” complained one union representative, citing a character in To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel read in every 9th grade English classroom in America for the last 50 years. The founder of PBL Global, a strong supporter of project based learning, supported this view. “We need a curriculum designed around questions,” he said, “Even if we have to make fun of education to accomplish it.”

The debate is not likely to be settled soon. Detractors have launched a new advocacy group, Let Us Teach!, while venture capital continues to flow to the teacher robot industry, whose leaders are confident that technology will win the day. “Okay, so we won’t be able to design robots that can lead a Socratic Seminar,” admitted one CEO, who just turned 23 and claims himself as a proud product of standardized testing, “But we’ll save taxpayers a lot of money.”

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