Robots have entered the school world to stay
In 2018, the first humanoid robot Elias arrived at the Tammelan koulu school with the Smart Tampere Digitalization Program experiment. Its jovial nature, encouraging teaching style and smooth moves instantly appealed to both pupils and teachers.
The first robot pilot in language education in Tampere was unique also on a global scale, and it later led to introducing two more robots to basic education.
Language teacher Nina Pirttinokka is especially familiar with Elias since she worked for six months at Utelias Technologies Oy where Elias’s application was created. It was there that Pirttinokka learned how to use and develop Elias. Now, Pirttinokka’s role includes helping other teachers in using the robot and planning the teaching.
“From the start of this semester, teachers from different schools have had the opportunity to borrow the robot through me for a month at a time. I’m present during the lesson in the pedagogic implementation of the robot and then, after that, I support my colleagues once a week at their schools," says Pirttinokka who participates in the technology team as “an ops agent" to ensure that the perspective of the curriculum is included.
With a few hours of orientation, Elias the robot becomes a great colleague. Once teachers have noticed how curious and excited children are about the machine, they have then understood what a great tool it can be.
The themes of the lessons taught by the robot include language basics, such as greetings, colours and numbers. Theme-related vocabulary is listened to and repeated after the robot. Finally, you can also discuss the theme with the robot using simple phrases.
The robot adds more diversity to the teaching and lets children become familiar with robotics at an early age. Elias encourages schoolchildren to study languages, while not forgetting singing, dancing or being a little goofy.
"During my lessons, I use the robot for getting to know the vocabulary, for instance, for approximately 15 minutes at a time. After that, we move on to other exercises. Pupils have asked me plenty of questions about robotics, and we have had a lot of fun with Elias during our lessons," says Nina Pirttinokka.
This autumn, Elias has visited the Peltolammin, Annalan, Karosen and Kämmenniemen koulu schools and the Sammon koulu branch at Sairaalakatu. Different languages, such as English, German, French, Spanish, Swedish and Finnish, have been programmed in the robots.
“The wide language selection has been a real treat because Tampere is offering earlier foreign language education. Currently, the robot lessons are especially well-suited for preschool and primary education. It’s great that the City of Tampere has wanted to invest in robotics."
In spring 2019, the Smart Tampere Digitalization Program offered the Koivikkopuiston koulu school the opportunity to try out the AV1 avatar robot to help teach schoolchildren with long-term illnesses. Both teachers and pupils have embraced the new technology. Nowadays, the robot, which has been named Alma, tours different schools according to where it is needed.
Riitta Launis is one of the teachers coordinating the use of the robot at the Koivikkopuisto koulu school. She says that Alma the robot has promoted sick schoolchildren’s equal opportunities of participating in teaching and brought joy to school days.
“The robot is borrowed for the home periods of schoolchildren with long-term illnesses. At home, the pupil contacts Alma the robot using an iPad application, and the robot is usually located in the pupil’s place in the classroom," says Launis.
Alma the robot streams live video and sound from the lesson to the pupil’s home. The pupil can follow the teaching and look around the classroom by turning Alma’s head.
“Using the robot facilitates the continuity of the school path and maintaining relationships with friends because with the robot, the pupil can be present with their schoolmates. Children with long-term illnesses have to stay at home for long periods of time in isolation, so Alma also prevents the feeling of loneliness," says Riitta Launis.
The pupil at home doesn’t only have to stare passively at their iPad since Alma the robot presents an opportunity for interaction.
When the pupil at home wants to say something, the robot flashes a light of a certain colour to indicate that the pupil has their hand up. The pupil can talk with their teacher and classmates, which promotes learning but also reinforces social interaction.
“The condition of the sick pupil is always taken into account, of course. They can also use the robot to let us know that they want to be in peace and only follow the teaching. Privacy is ensured since no recordings are made of the use of the robot", says Launis.
Teachers and pupils have been very inventive in how to use Alma the robot as diversely as possible. Pupils like to take it with them from one classroom to another and make sure that their classmate recovering at home isn’t left out of the group.
Guardians of children with long-term illnesses have also been pleased by the opportunities presented by the robot. In addition to Tampere, many other municipalities have also acquired similar AV1 robots for help.
Text Päivi Pajula
Photos Hanna Porrassalmi