Online learning has experienced a boom in the past few years, and as machine learning and AI technology are also experiencing growth now, education seems to be the potential next step for AI and robots.
Teaching is as much of a social activity as it is educational, so are robots a good fit to replace a human teacher?
Classroom instruction isn’t the only thing robots can do, so this article will be looking at what robots can do for students other than being a lesson instructor.
The potential for robots in education is very high, and since telepresence robots are going mainstream right now, robots stepping into the field isn’t very far away.
We’ll explore how robots could take up the responsibilities of being a teacher and the technology behind it that enables them.
Robots lack the emotional skills required to deal with young students, and until that aspect of AI is developed, robots won’t really replace human teachers.
Find out what goes into making a robot teacher and why robots could make teachers’ lives easier.
Machine Learning vs. Human Learning
One of the most critical aspects of machine learning is learning from experience, which translates into the machine processing large amounts of data to find patterns and fit the best responses.
This only closely mimics how a human learns because everyone has their own learning method.
Machine learning uses a simplified algorithm to learn from experience, but it cannot emulate a person’s learning styles.
But machine learning systems have way more computing power than humans, which makes the learning process faster.
With human learning, the student can generalize their intelligence and use it in something entirely different; for example, the skills that you get from learning math, like deductive reasoning and logic, can be applied in daily life, like driving or making your next big purchase.
Machines cannot do that, and their algorithms are only trained with a single application in mind.
Can Robots Teach Humans?
Robots might seem like the best replacement for a teacher because robots can retain more information and are faster at problem-solving than regular human beings.
While this sounds good on paper, it is only half the skills you need to possess to be a good teacher.
Understanding your students and dealing with their emotions is just as important as teaching them a unit and testing them on it.
Identifying what each of your students is good at and what they need to work on can only enhance their learning experience.
Robots don’t have the intelligence to understand emotion and infer anything from it, so they are pretty limited teachers.
We’ve all had teachers that drone on and on without any emotion, and a robot that’s trained just to teach would be precisely like that.
A study on ScienceRobotics says that robots can teach students highly specialized topics like prime numbers.
The study also says robots are good at being tutors or peer learners, but don’t really do well as your main teacher.
So the potential is there but is very limited as of now.
The Technology Behind Robot Teachers
The biggest driver behind robot teachers is machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Robot teachers use systems like this when assisting students with their work to be as helpful to the student as possible.
The robots also use speech recognition to understand what their students want and respond accordingly.
Although this aspect still needs some work, it is good to have.
Reacting to student output is also something that newer robot teachers have been designed to do, which can be a positive reinforcement for students learning with the robot.
Future robots can leverage advances made in facial recognition and better emotion processing to assist students in taking the right path through their education.
Advantages of Robot Teachers
One of the several advantages that robot teachers could bring is the lessening of workload on the human teachers.
For example, if a class of 60 turns in 60 tests or essays, and grading one takes 15 minutes, getting through every submission would take at least 15 hours.
If the teacher handles more than one class, the time only adds up, and if the teacher had some assistance from a robot, grading tests would be made a whole lot easier and faster.
This can give teachers more time to plan for their lessons better, enhancing their experience further.
Other administrative tasks, such as taking attendance or making copies of test sheets, will be more manageable if teachers have a robot to help out.
Robots can’t lose their patience like a regular teacher could, which would significantly help students who are having difficulty with the material they are working on.
The knowledge base that robots have is also incredibly better than a regular teacher, and if the robot doesn’t know, it could always look it up on the internet instantly.
Disadvantages of Robot Teachers
The cons of having robots as your teachers are primarily because the underlying technology is not developed enough to match a regular teacher.
A teacher needs to be emotionally and professionally competent enough to handle a class of students, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
So far, no machine learning algorithm or AI has perfectly figured out how to work around it, but the potential is there.
Technology factors aside, there can also be the issue of the students being overdependent on their robot teachers.
Human teachers can pick up quickly when a student is struggling and nudge them in the right direction, but a robot might simply give the student the answer.
This won’t help the student learn and build their logical reasoning or intelligence, and there isn’t a technology solution that can work around that.
Robot Teachers vs. Human Teachers
Despite achieving massive strides in technology for the past century, teaching and education haven’t changed from the teacher-student model for a long time.
This is partially due to the fact that teachers do more than just lecture a class of students and grade their tests.
The emotional requirements that a class full of adolescents, pre-teens, and younger children could never be expected of a robot.
Robot teachers would do great as teaching assistants or tutors who can help students with the work that the human teacher assigns or help the teacher grade tests and assignments.
Only until robots pick up the requisite emotional skills for dealing with a classroom would we see any chance of robot teachers taking over from humans.
This is only the case at this point in time anyway, and as technology progresses, we might be able to see a robot teacher teaching a class in the future.
Contemporary Educational Robots
Most educational robots we have now are oriented towards teaching the students robot-human interactions rather than teaching a classroom as a replacement for a human teacher.
Nao from SoftBank Robotics is an excellent example of a robot used in the educational field.
The robot was used to teach students in a UK school for children with autism and managed to yield great results, with students expressing that the robot’s expressive nature helped more than a regular teacher.
Nao is also available as a research tool for institutes and schools introducing robotics to their students.
More robots like Nao are on the horizon, its just that the technology behind these robots needs more development, which we can expect in the decades to follow.
What Aspects of Teaching Can Robots Take Over?
Robots won’t replace teachers soon, but they can take a lot of the tedious workload away from human teachers.
Testing and grading are the more apparent things a robot can take over from a human teacher, but there are also some hidden aspects of teaching that robots can do pretty well.
These robots can schedule classes and communicate with the teacher’s students, and if the teacher uses a good chatbot AI, students won’t even know the difference.
Robots can also administer online courses, where students can watch pre-recorded lectures and take tests administered by robots.
Home tutoring is another potential path that educational robots could take, with each robot tailored for the individual student and their strengths and weaknesses.
The most crucial aspect of any people-facing job, be it a receptionist, a teacher, or a waiter, is the social interactivity that people expect.
Social robotics is a serious field that has a lot of research going on at the moment, and researchers are trying to bring human-like emotions and behavior to people facing robots.
When AI and machine learning evolves and can emulate emotions accurately, only then might we even consider replacing teachers with robots.
Until then, there is no replacement for the emotional and social aspects that only a human teacher can provide.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Why are human teachers better than robot teachers?
Human teachers are better than robot teachers because they are human and process emotions just like their students and can interact better with them.
No AI we have now could accurately emulate emotions or human feelings to make a meaningful difference in a teaching environment.
How can robots help teachers?
Robots are good at repetitive tasks like grading tests and reviewing assignments.
Teachers can use robots to automate this tedious process that took several hours of the teacher’s time to get through before.
How can robots help in schools?
Robots can help bring students that can’t physically attend class through telepresence technology.
They can also act as teaching assistants or tutors to help students with their coursework.
Are robots good for education?
Robots are excellent educational tools and potentially really good educators as well.
They have more computing power than a regular human and can retrieve and retain information much better than their squishy counterparts.