Robo-teachers may do as well as their human counterparts, at a lower cost. It sounds too good to be true, but one recent experiment showed this is possible.
In experiments at six public universities, students assigned randomly to statistics courses that relied heavily on “machine-guided learning” software — with reduced face time with instructors — did just as well, in less time, as their counterparts in traditional, instructor-centric versions of the courses….
The study, called “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities,” involved students taking introductory statistics courses at six (unnamed) public universities. A total of 605 students were randomly assigned to take the course in a “hybrid” format: they met in person with their instructors for one hour a week; otherwise, they worked through lessons and exercises using an artificially intelligent learning platform developed by learning scientists at Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative.
On the downside, students found the robotic software less interesting than human teachers and they came away with a perception they had learned less.
How much can be saved by replacing humans with robots?
In terms of instructor compensation, the researchers estimated, a machine-guided course featuring weekly face-to-face sessions with part-time instructors would cost between 36 and 57 percent less than a traditional course in which a full professor presides over each 40-student section; and it would cost 19 percent less than if a single full professor gave one lecture to all sections before breaking them into smaller discussion groups led by teaching assistants.
Perhaps the warm and fuzzy elements of robotic instructors could be improved by well-designed avatars.
In a series of ingenious yet simple experiments, Rich Mayer and Scott DaPra showed that students learn better from an onscreen slide show when it is accompanied by an onscreen avatar that uses social cues.
Along with a human voice, the avatars “used a full compliment of social cues (gesturing, changing posture, facial expression, changes in eye gaze, and lip movements synchronized to speech) which were meant to direct student attention to relevant features of the slide show”.