Potential uses for robots are gaining traction for hands-on learning

Ryan Lacey District Administration, November 2016

Though some school districts have robotics heavily embedded in classes and programs, it’s still new in many others. The recently released NMC/CoSN Horizon Report says this will change in the coming years.

The Horizon Report, created by the New Media Consortium (NMC) and CoSN, identifies global technology trends that will help drive educational change.

While robotics is two to three years away from mainstream adoption in K12 education, according to the report, potential uses are gaining traction for hands-on learning. Many classes and clubs incorporate robotics and programs to help develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in students.

At the Robot Rodeo in Vermont, for example, students from 50 schools competed to code the robots in the quickest time and navigate them through an obstacle course of wooden blocks. Students controlled the motion of many of the robots via the use of software on tablets and other mobile devices.

Robots also provide access for students who may need to spend time at home. For example, a student in Commodore Perry School District in Pennsylvania attended classes via a robot while recovering at home from a broken leg. The student, as he watched the teacher on a screen, used his laptop to control the robot’s movements during class and as he went from one class to the next.

The global robot population will double between now and 2019, the report says.

A toolkit accompanying the report provides resources for administrators, including a series of robotics discussion questions to stimulate ideas for how the technology can be used in districts.

“I think the report gives us some tools and allows us to rethink schools,” says Joani Kay, technology coordinator at Mountain Brook High School in Alabama and one of the members of the panel this year.

Autism’s special aid

Students on the autism spectrum can develop social skills through interaction with humanoid robots, the report states.

For example, Robot4Autism’s Milo recognizes voices and faces, and can help teach children to develop simple emotions and expressions without the challenges that are attached to connecting with a real human.

The report says children who recognizes emotions, empathy, how to act more appropriately in social situations and how to self-motivate with Milo can be engaged 70 to 80 percent of the time, compared to 3 to 10 percent using traditional special education classroom approaches.

In addition to robotics, the report says virtual reality also will increase in schools in the coming years.

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