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Children want to be treated as Humans - by Robot Teachers

This week I came across an interesting study by Latitude Research via the MindShift Blog. In collaboration with LEGO® Learning Institute and Project Synthesis, Latitude asked children from across the world to write stories, imagining that a robot companion would be part of their everyday life, at school and beyond. 


The study Robots @ School found that children apparently have no problems to imagine a life with such a digitized friend, quite the opposite. Finishing story lines like 

“When I got to school this morning, my teacher surprised me by giving me a robot to help me with my schoolwork and…”

“My learning group or classroom finished its work before class ended, so my teacher let us leave early with the class robot and…”

“I made friends with a robot today, so I invited it to come home with me after school and…” 

they came up with pretty telling stories of how they imagine their ideal learning environment with 64% of them as natural, human-like companions. The robot teacher would have all the time and patience to explain a problem and concept over and over again until the kid got it. But there won’t be any harsh judgement or shame involved like in a “normal” classroom setting. The robot teacher / tutor would be supportive and understanding. 

“Robots can get that out of the way, because they’re not judgmental. There’s a sense that technology is almost coequal, as opposed to a sort of master-servant relationship.” explains Ian Schultze, Latitude’s Director of Technology and Business Development. 

The essence of the survey is pretty clear. Children want to learn in an environment that adapts to their personal needs and skills. They want someone (or something) at their side that supports them in the learning process but does not judge or shame them when they have a problem. 

Another key finding of the Robots @ School study is that for children the line between learning and playing is blurred, and they think that both are mutually reinforcing. 

All this reminded me of the concept behind Time To Know. Time To Know does not replace the teacher with a robot, but it gives every child a computer in the classroom. Children then learn at their own pace based on a curriculum that includes a lot of game elements and adapts automatically to the skill level of each individual student. 

The teacher then has the time and data to assist each student in a personalized way, supporting slower students or challenging the faster ones with individualized exercises. 

Time To Know’s founder Shmuel Meitar is a truly inspiring person. He invested $60 million of his own wealth into the launch of Time To Know in 2004, starting it as a philanthropic project to bring the classroom into the 21st century. I had the chance to interview him a couple of weeks ago, and I think that Time To Know’s concept is very close to what the children in the Robots @ School study envisioned for themselves.

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Picture by Latitude Research

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