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Robot Classroom Assistants Help Online Students Take Part in Lectures

Ross Kelly


Robot Classroom Assistants

The four robots, named Alvin, Anna, Ahmed and Abha, are helping online students get involved in lectures and speak to students and tutors. 

Online students at the University of Aberdeen are benefiting from robot classroom assistants as part of a pioneering new trial scheme.

The robot classroom assistants are helping to deliver teaching at the University’s Institute of Applied Health Sciences (IAHS), which provides short courses and Masters programmes to students in more than 100 countries around the world.

Named Alvin, Anna, Ahmed and Abha, the four robots are supporting online student experiences by acting as a webcam, microphone and speaker. They sit in on lectures, lab work and even field visits so that online students can stay up-to-date in real-time and learn alongside on-campus students from afar.

Dr Kirsty Kiezebrink, senior lecturer at IAHS, is using the system in her lectures and tutorials. So far, she said, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Our online students are reporting that they feel closer to discussions taking place in the classroom,” she explained. “The strength of using the robots is that it allows our online students to be co-taught with on-campus students, which is a relatively new model.

“The current trial will assess whether this novel teaching method can help student retention rates and make for a more engaging learning experience.”

Nancy El-Shayeb, an MSc Clinical Nutrition student based in Malaysia, said: “Using the robots made me feel like I was in the classroom and meant that I could exchange ideas and take part in group discussions, which is very helpful in online learning.”

Through electric eyes and ears, students can see and hear what goes on during a lecture, engage with other students and ask questions throughout a session. The robots themselves light up to alert tutors of incoming questions and students can even alert a lecturer if they are unsure of something.

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These light-up facial features can signal confusion or contentment when a question is answered.

Dr Kiezebrink said it is too early to give an indication of how widely this teaching method will be rolled out. However, she added: “We will continue to assess the value in using the robots as we look to enhance the learning experience for our online students.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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