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robot teachers

EXCLUSIVE: They’re here–robots are teaching your children


Classes in a suburban Los Angeles elementary school were successfully taught by teacher robots during the 2015-2016 school year.

Unbeknownst to parents, all first-grade classes in a suburban Los Angeles elementary school were successfully taught by teacher robots during the 2015-2016 school year.

Only one parent was in on the secret. John Miller*, whose family moved to the area from Silicon Valley and whose son Jack enrolled as a new first-grade student last school year, first approached the district superintendent three years ago with a radical idea.

“We’ve been working on some super cool artificial intelligence (AI), and in lab tests, the AI robots demonstrated instructional capability,” Miller said. “I wanted to see if they could teach real students, because we’ve seen robots help children with social-emotional learning.”

Using life-like faces from Hollywood special effects and makeup artists (think Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire), along with voice modifiers to avoid a robotic monotone, production on the teacher robots began.

During one-on-one and small group instruction, the teacher robots emitted electromagnetic waves that stimulated the frontal lobe in students’ brains. The frontal lobe controls problem solving, self-monitoring, organization, and attention/concentration.

Student teachers present in each classroom helped to grade homework and assisted with classroom management as the artificial intelligence pilot rolled out.

Only one malfunction was reported during the pilot, involving a teacher robot that jumped up and down continuously while teaching students about the life cycle of monarch butterflies. The malfunction was due to a recalled processor that was mistakenly used. The error has been documented and corrected, and the existing batch of remaining recalled processors was destroyed, Miller said.

“The students were so engaged in watching the butterflies that they didn’t seem to notice, despite a few giggles here and there,” said the student teacher. “And they all passed their post-unit assessments.”

*Names have been changed to protect school and student privacy as the program grows

(Next page: Plans to bring the pilot to scale)

If you’ve read this far, congratulations. We also hope you’ve figured out by now that this is a FAKE news story.

But how easy would it be for this to go viral? How many fake news reports spread like wildfire during the 2016 presidential election? Real people with real training can still create false news. It’s up to you, as educators, to teach your students to approach online information with a critical eye.

This is only one of many examples of how information literacy skills are more important than ever.

In a recent survey, 83 percent of librarians said information literacy has a large impact on college graduation rates. Though 97 percent of those surveyed said information literacy leads to success in the workforce, just 44 percent believe their libraries adequately support the skill.

Information literacy is critical to democracy, some say.

“The fact that 80 percent of middle school students in a recent study could not distinguish between fake news and authentic news on the web shows that we, as educators, have to do a better job of teaching media literacy in the digital age,” writes Alan November in an exclusive post for eSchool News. “That means paying just as much attention to teaching students how to be smart consumers of information as we pay to what we filter in our schools. Across 12 states and 7,800 student responses, the overwhelming majority of our students from middle schools to universities were easily manipulated into believing falsehoods to be true or credible.”

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Laura Ascione

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