Sunday, October 24, 2010

Again With the Robots!?!

I have been hearing about these English teaching robots being developed to replace me since the moment I stepped off the plane.  Not going to happen.


(source)
(CNN) -- It's a typical classroom scene: Students working at their desks as the teacher calls out instructions. But, unlike your average teacher, this one is made of plastic and computer circuits.
This isn't a sci-fi movie; it's an English language class taught by Engkey, a robot teacher, in the coastal city of Masan in South Korea.
Part of a pilot program launched by the South Korean government, students in two elementary schools in the city are being taught English by robot teachers.
In high-tech South Korea, robots serve a variety of educational purposes and the government is pressing ahead with plans to expand its robot learning, or "R-learning," program.
Mun-Taek Choi is a senior research engineer at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, the government-funded research institute that developed the Engkey.
He told CNN that government evaluation has shown that "the educational robot system indeed helps increase students' interest and self-motivation in studying English and improves their English skills."
What?  If this is the pilot program, how can there possibly already be a government evaluation that shows robots increase students' interest and self-motivation in studying English and improving their English skills.  I am going to go ahead and call BS on that one.
Thirty-six Engkeys are due to be implemented in 18 elementary schools across the Korean city of Daegu by the end of this year, according to KIST.
The Engkey is linked to and controlled remotely by a human teacher outside the classroom, whose face appears on the screen of the robot. The robot links students to teachers located as far away as Australia.
Besides being popular with children, the telepresence robot also helps address South Korea's shortage of qualified native-English speaking teachers, Choi said.
Using telepresence robots can be beneficial to students, according to Tucker Balch, associate professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"This type of technology can bring many types of teaching that would otherwise be unavailable into more classrooms," he said.
"It may be better to have a telepresence robot from a highly skilled teacher than to have just an average teacher in the classroom," Balch added.
No... it really is not.  Ideally you would want a highly skilled teacher in the classroom, but an average teacher in person has got to be better than a robot.  Being a highly skilled teacher... in person... also does not necessarily mean that person will be a highly skilled as a... telepresence robot... This train of thought it so stupid I cannot even finish this argument...
Robots haven't replaced human teachers in South Korean classrooms. Instead, they currently serve more as assistants.
Another version of the Engkey, which doesn't connect students to a human, uses voice recognition technology to help students practice their English pronunciation and dialogue.
Robots are a cost-effective way to help teachers when relatively simple and repetitive training is required, Choi said.
"We do not intend to substitute real teachers with robots," he said. "Rather it is important for us to develop robot systems that provide satisfiable assistance to teachers."
The Engkey isn't the only type of robot being used in schools.
Pre-school teachers in the city of Daejeon have received a helping hand (or wheel), thanks to iRobi and a robot dog named Genibo.
iRobi marks students' attendance and uses a face recognition program to ask children about their mood. Genibo, originally invented to be a pet robot, was redesigned to teach dance and gymnastics moves.
South Korea aims to introduce 830 of these types of robots into pre-schools by the end of this year, and its goal is to have them in kindergartens nationwide by 2013.
"Children feel the robot is their friend," said Bum-Jae You, head of the Cognitive Robotics Center at KIST. "Robots are very helpful to enhance the concentration capability of children in class."
For now, teachers don't have to be worried about being replaced in the classroom.
"Due to the limitations on the current robotic technologies, robots cannot completely supplant human teachers in the educational field," said Choi.
And there are doubts about whether they will ever be capable of doing that.
[...]
Students already now do remote English learning with distance teachers on web cameras in school computer labs.  How does spending thousands of dollars of an easily breakable robots improve upon on the current technology of a $20 webcam and microphone?

Technology is also a problem in schools because it fails to work... often!  I cannot tell you how often I have been told as I walk into a homeroom classroom that either the television or the computer in the class is not working that day.  That pretty much blows my lesson out of the water.

TVs and computers are the easy things that most reasonably tech literate people can figure out and fix themselves.  If Korean homeroom teachers are handed $10,000 robots and the blinking red check engine light comes on, they will just get rolled into a closet somewhere and forgotten about until the next semester recess.
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1 comment:

Tiffani said...

Every time I read about these robots, I just get irrationally angry. I'm sorry, but I know where the speech/voice recognition software is these days, and even if these were the most advanced robots on the market, they wouldn't be able to compete with a two year old English-speaking child in terms of comprehension and appropriate production.

Also, there is something evil in its eyes.

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