Can Mind-Reading Robots Help Students Pay Attention?
Even the best teachers have moments where their students start to lose focus in class. But what if they had a robot that could help them keep kids engaged? It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie but according to New Scientist , researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created a robot teacher that can regain the attention of even the most daydream-prone student.
The researchers hooked a test group of students up to sensors that monitor the brain’s learning and concentration area and had them listen to a story being read by a humanoid robot teacher. When the sensors indicated that the student’s was beginning to lapse, the robot did what savvy human educators do to regain it—changed the tone of it’s voice and used communicative gestures.
Since their minds weren’t allowed to wander, the researchers found that students who worked with the teacher robot were better able to recall the details of the story than the groups of students who were read a story without any robot cueing or with inconsistent cueing.
Beginning teachers who are still learning their craft might not mind having the extra help a robot could provide. But, since most real-life classroom educators don’t need a robot to keep their students engaged, the researchers hope that their discovery can help the growing numbers of online learners.
Indeed, even the best of a growing number of virtual learning resources—like edX  or TED-Ed —might have users with wandering minds. How exactly the robot’s artificial intelligence abilities will integrate with those sort of learning platforms without hooking every virtual student up to some sort of sensor remains to be seen. But if computer scientists and AI experts can make it happen, down the road, some sort of robot teacher could be a boon for online learners.
Posted by Janine E. Mooney, Editor
June 4, 2012