It’s already tomorrow. In Europe, and even more so in Asia, robots are gradually making a place for themselves in the classroom. Physical objects equipped with sensors and programmed to interact autonomously with their environment, but which – let us raise a part of the fantasy – hardly borrow from the human appearance.
If they appeared in some schools at the turn of the 2000s, it was primarily to help students understand robotics. “To lead them to understand that the operation of connected objects is not magic but is based on algorithms created by man”specifies Antonin Cois, member of Resnumerica, a collective of digital actors.
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These machines make mathematical logic more concrete. “Students must, for example, ask a robot to turn or pick up an object. If they make programming errors, the effects are immediately noticeable. »
“Giving meaning to coding”
“Playful, manual, collective learning”, argues Stéphane Brunel. This professor of engineering sciences is also the organizer, on the French side, of Robocup, the world’s largest robotics competition, which in its junior version brings together 450 teams, 90% of whom are schoolchildren. Participants must design robots that play football, put on a show or carry out rescue missions. “Something to give meaning to coding. »
Robots thus facilitate learning and even make it possible, via telepresence. “It gives students disabled or ill an immersion in the classroom », enthuses Frank Anjeaux, founding president of Axyn, who concluded a contract with the national education system for the supply of 500 machines. Measuring 1.6 meters, one of the models is mounted on wheels and has, as a head, a screen on which the student’s face appears.
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“From his home or the hospital, he controls his avatar with a joystick. He can move it and, thanks to a light signal, ask to speak. Once the class is over, a tutor brings the robot, very light, into the yard to allow his classmate who has remained at a distance to enjoy the recess »continues Frank Anjeaux.
Finally, a robot can also play the role of assistant to the teacher. “In a somewhat anecdotal way, by stating the date each morning, as is sometimes done in South Korea, where the machine becomes the class mascotnotes Didier Roy, member of the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria). Or, with the help of artificial intelligence, by answering the student on encyclopedic questions or by suggesting the most suitable series of exercises. »
A robot instead of the teacher?
Does this mean that one day a robot, acquired for a few thousand euros and reluctant to strike, could replace the professor? Didier Roy, a long-time college teacher, does not believe it. “A student needs to feel that his teacher has confidence in his abilities and wants to see him progress. »
Same conviction with Margarida Romero, professor of education sciences at the University of Nice. “Some robots are able to recognize pupils’ emotions and measure their level of attention. They also have the advantage of being able to repeat concepts indefinitely without losing patience and can give the student the impression of not being judged. But ultimately, it is the teacher who makes the difference. Because it involves pedagogical engineering and permanent adaptation, the profession of teacher is one of the least automatable”she assures.
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“To present robots as a threat to the profession, we risk depriving teachers and students of a precious adjuvant for learning”, warns Marie-Caroline Missir, the general manager of Canopé. Recently, the public operator offers teachers training in educational robotics, in connection with other disciplines such as math, French, music or languages.
Wishing to promote the learning of English, the national education recently accelerated the deployment in primary school of Captain Kelly, a voice assistant able to answer students’ questions, a bit like Alexa, popularized by Google. A way of “compensate for the shortcomings of certain teachers”we recognize frankly, Rue de Grenelle.
“Algorithms to adapt to the needs of each student”
Thierry de Vulpillieres
CEO and co-founder of the private company EvidenceB
“My company develops modules, particularly in math, based on adaptive learning. By drawing from a bank of up to 5,000 exercises, the algorithms make it possible to adapt to the needs of each student, by offering them the items best able to help them progress.
The teacher has a dashboard to assess progress and identify blocking points. Over time, the algorithms group the students according to their profile (those who respond based on the lesson, those who mobilize other resources, etc.) and make it possible to determine which learning paths are relevant. »