Monday, July 19, 2010

Teachers of the Future

Is it possible? Could we really be looking at the future of education to be handled by robots? According to this article, there are already countries experimenting with classrooms taught by robots and here in the US, we are already testing them on preschoolers.

The story opens with the example of a young autistic boy who successfully mimics the robot's actions. They even mention that when the boy begins to retreat from the learning session, the robot doesn't give up and soon is able to get the boy active again. A good thing, I think most of us can agree. Furthermore, "Researchers say the pace of innovation is such that these machines should begin to learn as they teach, becoming the sort of infinitely patient, highly informed instructors that would be effective in subjects like foreign language or in repetitive therapies used to treat developmental problems like autism." I wonder why we aren't spending more money on creating highly effective teachers? Wouldn't that mean that robots would become unnecessary?

Now, the funny thing is that one of the executives who is helping to create these robots made a comment that not only made me laugh, but was also one of those "Here's Your Sign" type comments. “The problem with autonomous machines is that people are so unpredictable, especially children...” Do you think so? Apparently some kids ripped the arms off one of the robots. The solution? Make the robot cry, at least a noise that sounds like crying.

They are also teaching the robots to think for themselves. After all, they need to be able to interpret when a student is learning or when a specific teaching method is not working for them.
This all makes me wonder about the possibility of such movies as Terminator or the Matrix. Of course, that could be my sci-fi freak nature coming out because we just started watching the new version of Battle Star Galactica, another "humans create robots that take over the world" story line.

But is all this necessary? They don't give much data of information, just that it is working and positive. I personally want to see the data and I want to see comparisons of adequately trained professional teachers using the same methods, in the same environment, with the same number of students. It is great if the robot works for small groups, but it has also been proven that teachers are more successful when they have smaller groups as well. The question remains, how do they compare when given the same learning situation as a real flesh and blood teacher. (Perhaps that doesn't matter, rather the fact that the robot teacher may be expensive upfront to purchase, but you don't have to worry about them calling in sick, taking vacation, or even paying them.)

Furthermore, going back to the child with Autism, one of the things important to teach children on the autistic spectrum and others with non-verbal disabilities is to focus on social relationships. These types of things involve real-world interactions that I find difficult to believe can be taught by a non-emotional machine. Facial expression, body language, and tone of voice are all important pieces of social interaction. Do you really think a robot can replace a teacher in that capacity?

No comments:

Post a Comment