I love robots and especially the notion of them doing the housework (although will the budgie disappear up the vacuum cleaner or the cat be run over?) and in the workplace they are already making their mark. I was reading an article recently, however, about robots in the classroom. It featured in the May 2017 ‘GESS Talks’, a newsletter for anyone associated with education, particularly GESS. (I presented at GESS Indonesia in 2015.) This is commercial but in our fiscally-challenged education environments, perhaps we should sit up and take notice? I reproduce the interview here. Make of it what you will. I invite your comments.
In Conversation with… Senthil Kugan, Director of Atlab
We are pleased to share details on the TeachAssist Robot that is soon going to be part of schools in the UAE to assist teachers in teaching students. He tells us about the hands on learning experience for students with the right help from technology.
What inspired Atlab to create these Robot teaching assistants? Please tell us more…
Today Technology plays a bigger role in the classrooms. Machine language, speech and video recognition are improving at a fast pace and there is a rise in the employment of humanoids all over the World. Being in education, we wanted to take the lead in using humanoids to empower educators and keep students engaged in the classrooms.
We were able to come up with a humanoid that will have a one-to-one interaction with each student and is also being designed to manage special needs students. Content is proven to be delivered more effectively with this type of engagement as our robots make learning fun and unique for students.
Today teachers have the burden of managing a lot in a classroom such as a smart board, tablet and control the classroom all at once which has become a lot harder with bringing technology in the classroom. We believe technology should not be a hindrance, but inspire educators and we want to help them by having our humanoid robot handle the technology aspect for them and let them focus on delivering the content/curriculum to the class.
We are also developing a browser based portal for STEM and our robot will be able to access this and deliver this to the classrooms in the near future. The robots will be able to run assessments to measure the learning outcomes of the students and generate reposts to teachers as well as parents.
How will the Robots assist the Teachers?
Through voice command, TeachAssist robots will be able to project anything on a blank screen or wall as it has an inbuilt projector. It can follow commands like opening an app and is an intermediator between the teacher and students as it can collect the work of the students on their tablets and project it on the whiteboard. The robot is trained to follow the commands of the teacher and aid in delivering digital and interactive content to the class.
When can we expect the Robot to launch in schools?
We plan to launch two robots: TeachAssist that will be ready by September this year and is currently being tested. The second robot is going to be deployed in lobby and library management in schools. The robot will be able to guide students in finding the right content and location of materials in their libraries in an effective manner as the technology is available for this.
What are your thoughts on innovation in the classroom?
I believe that innovation is very essential in each and every field today. If you do not incorporate this in your field, then your competitor will certainly get ahead of you. The teaching assistant is our version of innovation in the classroom as everyone knows about technology but only a few can use it to their advantage.
Are there any other new products coming out from Atlab?
Certainly! We are also working on a drone that requires coding in order to fly them. This is going to encourage students to become experts in coding as it is not just another drone.
Do you have any advice/suggestions for schools?
I have noticed that the concept of ‘Flipped Classroom’ works really well in many schools. This requires students to view short video lectures at home before class and then discuss together and work with peers to complete various exercises and projects. Students are taking the responsibilities of learning independently as a result. It is also important to redesign learning spaces that are innovative and encourage learning in the classrooms. We have been working with many schools and have helped them with creating makerspaces that help prepare students with the critical STEM skills required in the modern day.
I also think more students need to learn coding as most top companies are promoting this. This is a global trend and is going to be a universal language soon as it helps us communicate with machines hence it is called computational thinking. Many top world leaders believe that coding is useful in filmmaking and animation and is not just limited to engineering students but also to doctors and people in other fields.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We are coming up with Atlab STEMNet which is basically a stem community that will allow different schools to collaborate and allow students to work together on projects. We will be managing the stem lesson plans to help schools which is currently under planning. Students will understand challenges on how to communicate and collaborate online that will prepare them for the future.