Teachers are receiving a much-needed boost from robotics in education, especially in light of looming losses. A National Education Association survey reveals that 55 percent of its members are planning on leaving the teaching profession early.
Uses of Robotics in Education
While robots are in no way replacements for human educators, advancements in artificial intelligence and interactive technology have made robots suitable for certain roles in and out of the classroom. From teaching language lessons to tutoring students one-on-one, robotics in education is ready to support the next wave of learners.
Benefits of Robotics in Education
Robots have taken major strides forward in the education industry, cultivating children’s social skills, personalizing lessons through one-on-one interactions and taking on other roles to alleviate the hefty workloads of teachers.
Stronger Social Skills
To appeal to humans’ social nature, education robots come equipped with eyes, mouths and other facial features that people rely on to read emotions. These robots also feature technology that allows them to analyze speech and facial reactions, so they can determine an appropriate response. With an emphasis on emotional development, robots can teach subjects while also helping younger kids learn how to perceive and engage with others’ emotions.
Personalized Learning Options
Robots have exhibited enough autonomy to the point where they can interact with kids in one-on-one scenarios. For example, Softbank Robotics developed a Nao model as part of a European research project called L2TOR, with the goal of teaching young children a second language. The robot acted as a tutor, giving students the individual attention they needed to learn a new language at their own pace.
Affordable Teaching Alternatives
Teaching shortages have put pressure on remaining educators to serve more students, but robots are easing some of the strain. In addition to one-on-one conversations, robots are capable of leading small groups and assisting kids who need more in-depth attention in the classroom. Relying on robots to fulfill basic roles saves schools from scouring a limited talent pool for more teachers and further stretching their financial budgets.
Roles of Robotics in Education
While robots are not an all-around solution for the education system, they are well-suited for certain demographics and contexts.
Younger Age Groups
Robots can teach people of all ages, but they are especially effective at engaging younger children, who may be drawn to the novelty of robotics and the hands-on approach to learning many robots encourage.
The ability of robots to hold basic conversations with children makes them ideal for personalized learning roles. Robots can be tutors and teaching assistants, serving homeschooled students and students who need additional support in the classroom. Robots can also switch roles and become peer learners, where they learn alongside students who teach them.
More Structured Subjects
Robots are better at guiding lessons that are structured, require short responses and center on repetition. That means subjects like math, science and language vocabulary are easier for them.
Will Classroom Robots Replace Teachers?
Despite concerns some might have about teachers’ job security, a much more likely scenario — and one that’s already playing out — involves robots supplementing teachers instead of replacing them.
Robots can handle redundant tasks like responding to student emails in higher ed, address questions in small groups within a classroom setting and make lessons more fun for younger kids by treating them in a non-judgemental manner. All these abilities improve the education process for students, making robots a tool that some educators may want to have on hand.
Robots and other assistive technologies have become a useful component in the classroom, providing the detailed attention instructors are sometimes unable to give to students with disabilities and students who miss class or struggle with a particular topic.
Schools and instructors should collaborate on when and how to apply robotics in education to enhance the experience for both students and teachers. Finding supportive roles for robots lessens the workloads of instructors while enabling them to focus more of their energy on teaching difficult subjects and nurturing students’ personal growth.
7 Examples of Robotics in Education
Robotics for STEM Learning
Location: San Mateo, California
How it’s using robotics in education: Wonder Workshop provides a more engaging classroom experience with its STEM learning robots Dash and Cue. Dash captivates younger kids with singing and dancing while exhibiting the ability to respond to voices. Cue comes with similar features, but specializes in more complex interactions to cater to older children. With both robots, teachers can deliver an immersive method for kids to learn robotics, coding, engineering and other STEM-based topics.
Location: Tokyo, Japan
How it’s using robotics in education: Softbank is the company behind Nao, the robot used in the L2TOR project, as well as Pepper, a taller high-tech humanoid robot. Both have been deployed in a variety of industries ranging from retail to healthcare, but Softbank thinks its inventions could also work well in the classroom. As teaching assistants for STEAM (Science, Technology Engineering, Arts and Math), they can serve as customized instructors for individuals or groups, engage with students to enhance social and emotional skills and keep detailed data on their interactions so teachers can track student development.
Location: Billund, Denmark
How it’s using robotics in education: In 1984, an MIT professor designed a programming language for children that could be used to make robot “turtles” move in a certain direction, turn around and draw things. Lego CEO Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen learned about the experiment and thought his toy bricks could benefit from the same technology. Lego’s collaboration with MIT eventually became known as Lego Mindstorms, a line of programmable Lego robots designed to interest kids in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and computer programming. The company envisions home and classroom applications, and there are even international Lego robotics tournaments as part of the First Lego League.
Location: Greenville, Texas
How it’s using robotics in education: Vex Robotics aims to interest students in STEM by teaching them to build and program robots. The company offers an array of robotic products for students of different ages as well as a curriculum for educators to use as a guide. Its annual competitions host entrants (elementary age through high school) from around the world who vie for top honors in robotics-related subjects like research, math and science.
Robotics for Special Education
Location: Hatfield, U.K.
How it’s using robotics in education: Kaspar (Kinesics and Synchronization in Personal Assistant Robotics) is a project from the University of Hertfordshire. A doll-like humanoid, Kaspar helps teachers and parents support children who have autism or other communication difficulties. Kaspar is intentionally designed with a minimally expressive face, keeping the needs of children with autism top of mind.
Location: San Francisco, California
How it’s using robotics in education: BeatBots is the company behind Keepon, which achieved a degree of internet fame for its love of the band Spoon. A small yellow robot, Keepon was originally designed by Hideki Kozima to promote social interaction and communication skills among children with developmental difficulties. While its commercial version is used in classrooms and by therapists, its consumer model (MyKeepon) is available to anyone.
Robotics for Social Learning
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
How it’s using robotics in education: An MIT spinoff, Personal Robots Group conducts robotics research and engineers a variety of robots. One of them is a fuzzy social robot named Tega. Social robots are meant to promote interaction between humans and robots. This one specifically is a learning assistant that engages kids in educational activities — in part by upping the fun factor. Other PRG work focuses on using the company’s robots to help kids learn a second language.
The Future of Robotics in Education
Educators may not have a choice when it comes to deciding whether to apply robotics in education. According to a UNESCO report, the world still needs 69 million teachers to meet global education goals in 2030. The situation has become even more urgent in light of pandemic disruptions, human migrations and a general lack of resources.
Machine learning and AI technology are already powering transcription services, online courses, tactile game sets and other interactive learning elements. The next logical step would be to integrate robots into learning environments, and robots are rising to the occasion.
Besides demonstrating the ability to handle STEM subjects and more structured conversations, robots are also expanding into the social and emotional aspects of learning. Educators should still be careful when considering adopting robotics in education since it’s unclear how robots affect the social-emotional development of children. However, trusting robots to complete repetitive tasks and basic instructive roles can empower educators to become more efficient while making topics more enjoyable for students of different age groups.
Introducing robotics in education in a responsible and thoughtful manner can offer much-needed support to both students and teachers as the education industry faces uncertain times.