Robot teachers? Almost….!

January 13, 2015 by Mike

robot-teacher-8159706Picture this… A room of basketball-pitch proportions.  More than 100 students sitting round tables with laptops.  Robotic voices posing questions, about 15 teachers helping students at different paces figure out how to solve the problems being set.  A sci-fi movie?  No, this is a school in New York!

It’s called the Teach-to-One programme (don’t quite get why) and it’s the ultimate high-tech approach to classroom management.  Students come to class each morning and are directed to a particular group in this massive room, based on current performance data.  The algorithm involved is also driving the activities each group will engage in that day, the teachers acting as coaches to help them work toward the next computer-determined test.  A very “personalised” learning experience, driven by “big data” (or student analytics, if you like).  Advocates of this approach claim impressive results, students performing nearly 50% better than those experiencing more normal teaching methods.

Not sure what I think about this one… I’d want to know how broad the range of subjects is that the technique has been tried in, for one thing, and I’d be interested to see how the student performance increments were actually measured (and by whom).  Fascinating method of instruction?  Certainly.  But can any algorithm really shape learning in this way and what basic life skills might these students be missing out on without the good-old-fashioned human element that we still call a “teacher”?