Bots In The Classroom

Bots In The Classroom
Phonlamai Photo/
Summary: This article examines the use of bots in the classroom, and then visions the future, leveraging a digital learning twin.

Wave Of Change

There's a wave of change beginning to lap at school doors...bots. This article will examine:

  • Today's use of both physical and virtual bots in schools
  • Costs associated with the new technology
  • Propose a rethink of the current system
  • Digital learning twin
  • New age identity and privacy framework
  • Roles, data privacy, and liability
  • Virtual students
  • Human and bot teachers
  • Teaching bot singularity
  • Ethics and schools
  • Assessments
  • Wind of change

Bots Are Here

Physical and virtual bots are now entering classrooms. Examples include but aren't limited to:

  • Furhat social bots [1]
  • Chat compose
  • SPARC: Supervised Progressively Autonomous Robot Competencies [2]
  • Kindergarten robo-teachers [3]
  • Softbank's Nao [4]
  • Kaspar [5]
  • Vex robots
  • Bee-bots
  • Bots for recruiting teachers [6]
  • Botsify
  • College chatbots [7]
  • QBot [8]
  • Grading papers [9]

Chipping Away At Education

All of the above examples are, what I call in my head, "using technology to chip away" at portions of the current education system. From many different perspectives, they're trying to rethink portions of the system.

Some of them are producing measurable learning results BUT, from an educational administrator's perspective, many of them aren't reducing costs to the existing system's budgets. Instead, in addition to the teachers, the largest cost center in schools, they're adding new capital/operating costs to the budget.

My premise? The school system needs to be rethought such that each student is equally addressed while costs are reduced.

Rethinking The Education System

Several years ago, I went out for a coffee with the former superintendent of my school district. Together, leveraging technology, we had implemented many different changes. I told him we had failed. He looked at me like I was a dummy, rattling off the many things we had done, asking why I would say such a thing?

I replied that we hadn't changed the underlying system. On the first day of school, a student shows up together with 20-30 other students. The teacher at the front doesn't know them, their learning strengths and weaknesses. The conveyor belt of the system begins to move (i.e., time). Students, like myself, who can easily learn, thrive. Others, who have different learning challenges begin to fall off the wagon, so to speak.

After some thought, he asked me what I was proposing? I stated before a child enters a classroom, the first requirement is to do an in-depth assessment of them. This includes their physical abilities (e.g., motor, sight, sound skills, etc.), aptitudes, learning abilities, abilities to work with others, etc.

Take this, and then begin to create a learning plan per child. It would likely involve a wide variety of different techniques, resources, humans, and technology at different times, for different subjects, etc. Then, do continual assessments.

At the time of our conversation, digital twins, AI, technology to monitor/predict people's behavioral/biometrics, and bots, both physical and virtual, were all in their early days.

Digital Learning Twin

Before any technology is used, or any teacher begins to teach, the first thing is to understand the learner. In "Digital Identities, Students & Privacy," I lay out the idea of creating a learning digital twin. The technology is emerging, allowing for the creation of what I told my friend about. As both the post and this thought paper [10] layout, rather than try to rethink the entire system, it should be done in fast, iterative stages.

New Age Identity And Privacy Framework

"Digital Identities, Students & Privacy" begins to lay out a new framework for legal identities of students, physical teachers, virtual teachers, and bot teaching assistants, both physical and virtual. It also discusses ensuring that any data collected about the student is expunged from the commercial systems used once the student graduates. It's with these new-age legal tools, the liability type questions posed in the humanoid robot paper [11] can begin to be addressed.

Roles, Data Privacy, And Liability

This paper "Humanoid Robots as Teachers and a Proposed Code of Practice [11]" examines the role of bots and teachers in the classroom moving forward, suggesting a code of practice. It also touches on the privacy of student data and liability.

In "Digital Identities, Students & Privacy," I dive into the same waters. Bots, of any type, bring with them AI, plus the ability of continual behavioral/biometric monitoring. All of which leads to whopper-sized databases, which can be used to predict a student's behavior long after they've graduated. Note that in most of the above examples, this topic isn't mentioned.

Virtual Students

In "Digital Twins/Virtual Selves, Identity, Security & Death," I discuss the rapid emergence of virtual selves. With the advent of AI/AR glasses, it merges formerly online and offline worlds. All I can see in my head is a confusing world of entities, both physical and virtual, heading toward the classroom. As an old guy, I see it as the coming to life of this old scene from Star Wars, where Princess Leia sends a message.

Human And Bot Teachers

The digital learning twin will constantly recommend customized learning pathways for each student. Going back to my prior point about budgets, the new system must be able to deliver for each student the best learning for them at a lower cost. Thus, different degrees of automation will be used at different points along a student's learning pathway as and when it works.

As the research paper noted above states, teaching roles will change. A teacher may still teach some students some of the time. The teacher might physically be in the same classroom as the student, or located on the other side of the planet. It's a mind-shift most educators aren't thinking of.

Bots, both physical and virtual, will be used at the right place and time for each student given each student's learning plan. The bots may facilitate group work, teach independently, etc.

Teaching Bot Singularity

In the thought paper "Artificial Intelligence & Legal Identification [12]," I discuss bots working together in singularity. The ability to work together in singularity isn't here yet, but it's coming. What was once the age of science fiction is now on our doorstep.

Thus, it begs the question of how teaching bots will be able or unable to collectively work together. Much thought needs to be put into this since the effects on privacy over time will be stunning.

Ethics And Schools

Into all of the above enters ethics. In a fast-changing planet due to this curve, what ethics need to be taught in our schools? There's currently much debate about ethics for AI, gender, race, et al. Pushing aside for the moment what ethics need to be taught, can bots "teach it" in an unbiased way?

Today, the likely answer is no. But, with the rapid pace of change, it's not inconceivable in the not so distant future they could. The proposed code of practice referred to above needs to be adjusted to include standards for teaching of ethics.


In "AI, Cheating & Future of Schools/Work," I examine the current arms race leveraging AI, wireless et al to cheat. At the end it states, "Given the rapid change, instead of trying to prevent Jane Doe from cheating on an exam, essay or HR assessment, why not consider rethinking schools [10]and business with new-age tools to rethink learning, assessment and work? Leverage the technology, rather than try to swim against it."

Wind Of Change

The 90's Scorpion song "Wind of Change" contains the words: "Take me to the magic of the moment, on a glory night, where the children of tomorrow dream away, in the wind of change." The video ends with the statement of a female astronaut, "When you look at it up here, you get an appreciation of our world is a beautiful place, and we do need to take care of it."

We have choices. We can let technology lead us or we can lead it to leverage our children's lives such that they may live their dreams. It's time to rethink our learning systems from the child learner's perspective, planetwide.


[1] A robot in every classroom: Furhat’s vision for education

[2] SPARC: Supervised Progressively Autonomous Robot Competencies

[3] Robot teachers invade Chinese kindergartens


[5]  Robot teaches autistic children human interaction

[6] The Boundless School creates a chatbot with attitude

[7] College Chatbots, With Names Like Iggy and Pounce, Are Here to Help

[8] QBot is here – Creating learning communities supporting inclusion and social learning in Teams for Education!

[9] Algorithms are grading student essays across the country. Can this really teach kids how to write better?

[10] Canadian School System, Covid, Digital Identities & Future - A Thought Paper

[11] Humanoid Robots as Teachers and a Proposed Code of Practice

[12] “Artificial Intelligence & Legal Identification” – A Thought Paper