What comes to mind when you think about education? Chances are that it involves an experienced teacher talking to a number of students. For thousands of years, this has been the main way people have been taught intellectual skills. But there are recent developments that might change the way we learn things. Using modern technology, teachers are no longer limited to the people that are physically near. Over the internet a great teacher can reach millions. Innovative people such as Salman Kahn have pioneered in this field, but the educational establishment is not far behind. Many famous names take part in the Open Courseware project, such as MIT, Yale and our own TU Delft.
But while this method of distribution provides the great advantage of scale, it often provides little engagement. A famous piece of Confucian wisdom says: “What I hear I forget, what I do I remember”. This emphasizes how important it is that a student plays an active role during lessons. This requires a level of interaction that cannot always be provided through internet lectures.
A different innovation that could provide a high level of interaction is the robot teacher. Modern humanoid robots are flexible creatures and it is far from unthinkable that robots will someday fulfill the role of teacher in the classroom. The chances of success for the robot as a teacher depend largely on its capability to interact. Saying words is not difficult for a robot; however, telling a story to an audience is.
The Robotutor project explores the issue of robot-classroom interaction in a practical way. Its aim is to develop prototype software that enables a robot to give an engaging presentation to an audience. Based on feedback from the audience the software can be improved and observations can be made about the subject.