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Are classroom robots the NextGen of learning?

I recently read a report that said schools in the UK spend £900mn per year on educational technology. It shows that clearly, edtech is becoming an integral part of our classroom learning.

Our regular classrooms are steadily transforming into ‘tech classrooms’, with an integration of learning apps like Kahoot, interactive boards, inexpensive VR devices like Google Cardboard and Class VR, voice operated devices, online flashcards, virtual assistants, etc., into our curriculum.

Read more: How can teachers use VR in the classroom?

Technology has the potential to further transform the way we learn, as is apparent by the advancements in robotics and its use in classrooms.

Let’s take a look at how robots are currently being used in classrooms and try answering the question of the hour:

Do robots have the potential to teach students in the future?

Classroom robots of today

Edison (Age Group 4-16)

Edison is a small yet powerful programmable robot for introducing STEM in the classroom and familiarizing students with coding at an early age. It’s a great engagement tool that resembles a tiny car and works with legos.

Microbric, an Australian company, created this affordable robot for students to start learning how to code and program in the most engaging manner.

Edison has four programming levels that are suitable for teaching different age groups.

Program Age group Function
Barcodes 4-6 Pre-loaded programs for teaching the basics of how programming works
EdBlocks 7-12 Introductory language to learn programming by simply dragging and dropping blocks
EdWare 11-13 Hybrid language integrating drag-drop system with text-based entry
EdPy 13-16 Complex coding using text-based programming language based on Python

To use Edison, you have to connect it to your computer or tablet to run the pre-loaded programs or start loading programs that students create using any of the above three progressive languages.

Schools in Australia are using Edison for teaching their students computational thinking, the basics of coding, and for giving them a taste of how programming works.

Milo (Age group 5-17)

Milo, or the Robot Kid, is an interactive robot for engaging and teaching children with autism. Milo is the next generation of therapy for autistic children, helping catch their attention, develop their social skills, and improve their ability to interact normally.

Robokind, a startup based in Dallas, developed Milo as a socially interactive robot with facial cues and expressions.

Milo uses a camera to read students’ facial expressions, make conversations, and help them relax when he senses stress. The Achievement Center of Texas that’s currently using Milo reported an improved attention span, a higher response rate, and better results in students.

Students take their lessons and interact with Milo using a tablet in the presence of a facilitator. With Milo, they learn communication skills, social skills, appropriate social behavior, and to self-motivate.

Milo’s usage is still limited to training two to three students at a time and the team at RoboKind is working to implement Milo in bigger classrooms.

Read more: How AI is changing special education

Pepper (Age group 5-12)

Pepper the emotional robot is the first ever humanoid bot that can sense principal human emotions and adapt his behavior as per the emotions. Pepper is designed as a companion who can communicate with you intuitively and memorize your personality traits.

As an initiative of the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, elementary schools have started using Pepper and Nao, both developed by the Japanese company Softbank Robotics, as adjunct to classroom learning.

These robots are teaching lessons like understanding emotions, sounds, neighborhood activities, counting denominations of money, recycling, landmarks in Singapore, and more.

The results showed that there were noticeable improvements in the students’ social skills, creativity, and classroom interactions. Pepper and Nao have had a positive impact on student behavior and their ability to learn new things in a creative manner.

Affective Robot Tutor Integrated Environment (ARTIE) (Age group 5-17)

ARTIE is an educational platform that can integrate with many educational software programs designed for primary curriculum. The ARTIE framework is designed to interpret the emotional state of students based on their individual classroom profiles entered by the teacher, and their computer functions.

Although still in its primary stages of development, ARTIE has been tested on two students with different cognitive profiles using a robot prototype named MONICA. MONICA reads the student’s cognitive behavior when using computer functions, like their typing speed, pressure on certain keys, mouse actions, etc.

An emotionally active robot like MONICA assesses the students’ cognitive states, i.e., is the student concentrating, distracted, or inactive? It then uses an algorithm to predict the right teaching methods for that situation. It keeps kids both engaged and active during the lessons.

Robotics in other spheres


Sophia, developed by Hanson Robotics, is the most advanced humanoid developed till date. She has striking human features, and can answer questions with a tinge of humor. She went viral for becoming the first ever robot to get a national citizenship.

Sophia has met with key personnel in banking, insurance, media, and auto manufacturing, and has been a panel member in many hi-tech robotics & AI conferences. It’s about time her abilities can be applied to our education systems as well.

Erica the News Anchor

Like Sophia, Erica is a lifesize robot developed in Japan who’s set to become a news anchor on Japanese media. Erica is designed by Dr. Ishiguro and is said to have abilities of speech recognition and live interaction with humans.

The future?

As we can see, robots today play the role of Educational CoBots or TeachAssist bots (working with teachers). Although they still can’t work independently, they can surely reduce human efforts required for teaching.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning are the tech of the present and future and there are path-breaking advancements being made to perfect AI. For instance, the new Google assistants can make phone calls, talk to the call receiver and book appointments by negotiating a time. All this while sounding like an actual person.

Read more: 4 Ways AI will be a great teaching assistant

I can imagine that there’ll be a time in near future where our classrooms will have virtual teachers like the ‘Vox System’ from the movie ‘The Time Machine’. Sounds far-fetched? I don’t think so. History suggests that if we can think it, we can make it.

Technology keeps evolving and so should our classroom learning methods, to keep up with these developments and to use them to our benefit. As teachers, it’s time to adapt and think of ways to blend our classroom learning with the latest in technology.

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