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I, Teacher

Posted by Cassandra Davis Jul 29, 2010

Robots are being programmed to teach children in the classroom



Without mentioning whether they are programmed to follow Asimov’s three laws of robotics, the New York Times recently featured a video on robots programmed to teach kids. Described as “infinitely patient, highly informed instructors,” the robots are intended to be effective in subjects like languages, repetitive therapies or with students with special needs such as autism. The robots are programmed to respond to, interact with, and learn from students in a way that enables them to serve as complementary teaching aides in the classroom.


While preliminary results suggest the students working with robots “do about as well as learning from a human teacher,” the luddites among us might find the use of robots as supplemental teachers alarming. Aren’t kids already inundated with enough computers, smart phones, video games and all things electronic? Do children really need more non-human interaction? OECD research suggests that children strongly prefer learning situations with human contact in comparison to electronic teaching tools. This might not seem surprising, but perhaps we’re underestimating the charisma of the teaching ‘bots.


In a time of tight education budgets, the question isn’t really whether or not the robots succeed in teaching students, but whether the robots result in the most bang for the buck (or Euro, or won…) for their investment. Much of the focus of cheap laptops for children and robot teachers has been on whether or the technology works, not whether they are the most efficient use of education funds. In South Korea, a shortage of English teachers has prompted the government to invest $45 million in robotic English teaching assistants, with the robots being deployed to most preschools and kindergartens by 2013. The approach is innovative, but one might wonder whether spending on robots would be better spent on training additional or existing teachers.


The OECD’s New Millenium Learners project will be exploring the newest generation of learners and the impact of digital technology on learning, skills, and even social values.  The project might not give us this millennium’s robotics rules, but it will help us better understand the effect of the ‘bots on our kids and society.


An OECD working paper raises unsolved questions about the cost-effectiveness and educational impacts of 1:1 computing in education. Let us know what you think, are robot teachers a wise educational investment?


See also article on BBC News: Using computers to teach children with no teachers, A 10-year experiment that started with Indian slum children being given access to computers has produced a new concept for education, a conference has heard.


As the world economy recovers jobs are being created but many employers can’t find the right people to fill them.


After a BBC World Debate at the OECD on this subject, panelists and participants give their views on what needs to be done to create jobs.


Tell us what you think needs to be done to create jobs?

More educational resources are being offered free online

If you’ve taken beginning French, there’s a good chance you downloaded lessons from Open University via iTunes U, a section of iTunes dedicated to free educational tracks. Beginner’s French was the most popular downloaded track of the Open University’s 20 million downloads last year (a world record).


Runners up include science, technology, engineering and maths. You might wonder who would choose to listen to calculus lessons over their favorite tunes, but with the costs of education high and the returns from education even higher, the opportunity to learn for free is becoming ever more attractive.


Recently, UK universities have started offering podcasts of lectures from university courses through the iTunes U service in an attempt to provide flexible and personalised education to “reach new audiences around the world.” And it’s not just iTunes.  Teachers can now download curriculum or watch lesson plans from teacher-dedicated resource websites such as TeachersTV or Scholastic’s TeacherShare.


But will the availability of free education create disincentives for those who produce the education? While some might view educational resources as a valuable public good, others might view it as an infringement of intellectual property. Who would want to pay $40k for an MIT education when you can watch most of the lectures for free? The OECD’s Open Education Resources project explores the purpose, content, and funding of open educational resources. It addresses important questions related to incentives and barriers for universities and faculty staff to provide their material over the internet for free.


Will podcasts replace brick and mortar education? Probably not. It is clear, however, that more and more people are accessing and using open educational resources than ever before, which might eventually have implications on how policymakers evaluate and fund education. Free education resources are especially attractive in a time when national budgets are tight (and getting tighter).


And as always, you can’t evaluate something you don’t know. The OECD’s recent work on assessing international indicators on technology use in education provides a basis for designing frameworks and identifying indicators of how students use technology. This will further aid policymakers assess and better utilize education technology.


So put in your ear buds, and get ready to learn.


Tell us what you think, what type of education should be available free online?


Read more on the OECD’s Open Educational Resources project.
Read more on the OECD’s “Assessing the Effects of ICT in Education”.

ECLAC launches Public Consultation eLAC2015 and prepares for the Third Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean


In order to define future priorities in the development of the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean on the basis of a broad regional consensus, ECLAC, through the Information Society Programme, launched its "Public Consultation eLAC2015", designed to be answered by all those experts and leaders driving the development of the information and communication technologies (ICT).


This survey is part of the need to develop a new digital agenda for the region, which leads to Latin America and the Caribbean to develop a sustainable information society, competitive, innovative and inclusive. The Third Ministerial Conference on the Information Society to be held in Lima from the 21st to the 23rd of November this year will be the headquarters where the current members of the Regional Action Plan eLAC2010 discuss the proposal for this new commitment for the region.


Under the slogan "building inclusive and innovative Digital Societies in Latin America and the Caribbean", it is expected to build a regional Action Plan eLAC2015 that achieve the fulfillment of the goals outlined in the Action Plan adopted at the first phase of the World Summit Information Society (Geneva, December 2003) and the Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society adopted at the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (Tunis, November 2005 ) with the aim of contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

The Third Ministerial Conference will have in advance a preparatory meeting between the 23rd and the 24th of September in Montevideo, Uruguay, which will determine the degree of progress in implementing the Regional Action Plan for the Information Society eLAC2010. In addition, it is expected that the proposals for the new Plan eLAC2015 are settled as well as to present inputs of Working Groups activities, the definitive version of the Monitoring for the Information Society in the region and the results of the Public Consultation.


The consultation, whose answers are confidential and all questions are voluntary and multiple-choice, will be available until the 16th of July and the results will be published on the ECLAC’s Information Society Programme website.

We invite all experts and passionate about ICT to answer the survey in order to be part of a broad consensus in the development of the next regional agenda, eLAC2015: building inclusive and innovative Digital Societies.

Go to online survey

Surveys done by the OECD find that teachers around the world are losing significant teaching time due to discipline problems. The UK is giving teachers more freedom to use force to ensure good behaviour, but is this the answer?


In many countries, the proverbial paper airplane has been replaced by more ominous student disruption including physical violence, drugs, and verbal abuse. According to the OECD’s Teacher and Learning International Survey (TALIS), a survey of teachers in more than 20 countries, one in four teachers loses at least 30% of lesson time to disruptive student behavior or administrative tasks. More than 2 teachers in five in Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Spain agreed that a significant amount of time was lost because of students interrupting lessons.  Nearly half of teachers in Malta and Hungary, and two in five teachers in Belgium are in schools whose principal reports that intimidation or verbal abuse of other students hindered learning. In Mexico, this number was more than 60%.


With all of the education time lost due to lack of discipline in the classroom, policymakers should take note. The issue of discipline is a serious one. Even with the newest technology, the highest quality curriculum, and the best infrastructure, student outcomes will not be improved if students are spending their time waiting for the classroom to be managed.


Britain recently announced a change in legislation that will give teachers more freedom to discipline students, including force if necessary. The government wants teachers to “feel confident in exercising their authority.” With the new legislation, teachers will have more power to search students and fewer restrictions on the use of force.


While it might be easier to address the immediate problem by giving teachers more tools to ensure good behavior, it is much harder to change the root of the problem: misbehaving students. Even the most well-funded schools will still have disruptive students (anyone who has seen an episode of Gossip Girl can attest), but many persistent discipline problems are due to lack of teacher training or too many students in classes. Findings from TALIS indicate that student discipline and behaviour problems are among the top three areas for which teachers identify a high level of need for professional development. TALIS results also indicate that smaller class sizes are associated with better classroom disciplinary climate in most countries. But with many education systems increasing class size and reducing resources towards professional development in the wake of the economic crisis, how do teachers deal with the discipline problem?


Tell us what you think: Will more severe disciplinary measures, including force, improve student behavior and help teachers better manage their classrooms?


Read more about the TALIS survey results.

A new OECD working paper finds that higher educational attainment is associated with increased chances of problem drinking among young British women.

Our drinking habits generally evolve over the years. You might have drunk more beer when you were young but prefer a good bourbon now. In France you are probably more likely to have a Bordeaux at dinner while in Germany you might drink more Hefeweizen. In Ireland you might drink more… well, drink more. But what about the effect of education?

It might come as a surprise to many that acquiring more education is associated with increased chances of daily alcohol consumption and problem drinking. A new OECD working paper explores the relationship between education and alcohol consumption among young adults in Britain.

The paper offers a few ideas as to why this might be the case. More education might simply mean you have more means to purchase alcohol. Maybe more educated people attend more cocktail hours or work events where knowing the latest cépage (wine grape) or Belgian brew might be a requirement to fit into a company culture. Ironically, a high sense of self-control might cause better educated individuals to drink more and more heavily.

Although many great thinkers of our time have been known to enjoy a good drink (or 4), the widespread prevalence of alcohol abuse – accepted socially or not - could become a public health problem. Shouldn’t educated people know better?

Let us know your thoughts: Why would more education lead to more alcohol consumption?



Read more about the OECD working paper here.

Read related reports from the World Health Organisation:

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