Artificial Intelligence is coming to Australian schools as a Gold Coast college introduces AI assistant teachers to the classroom.
This semester Trinity Lutheran College’s Kirsten Ford has started teaching side-by-side with an AI-powered ZenoBot avatar which is designed to deliver classroom lessons, run activities, respond to student queries and record their answers.
Speaking more than a dozen languages, the Australian-developed ZenoBot runs on a large interactive screen at the front of the class, as well as on students’ laptops. The co-ed Christian college is running a pilot with Year 7 students, with plans to introduce the ZenoBot to other year levels.
Unlike a typical classroom, Trinity Lutheran College divides the room into four spaces; an auditorium, lounge area, individual booths and traditional teaching space. With 20 students spread across these four areas, moving throughout the day, Ford and a second teacher often work with students in the auditorium and teaching spaces while the ZenoBot conducts lessons in other areas of the room.
Rather than view the ZenoBot avatar as a threat to her job, Ms Ford sees it as powerful teaching tool in a “flexible learning environment” which allows her to spend more quality time with individual students.
“We encourage our students to take responsibility for their learning and it’s really handy having the assistance of the ZenoBot,” she says. “The ZenoBot can take a small group where students can work individually, at their own pace, without the need for actual face-to-face teacher instruction.”
“For example, the ZenoBot can run a refresher course or a little master class where the kids can target certain skills that they want to improve or extend, such as understanding transitive verbs or possessive apostrophes.”
While the students enjoy working with the ZenoBot, one shortcoming is that they need to wait if they have a question during class which requires the teacher’s assistance. Thankfully an upcoming update will ensure that the ZenoBot is better equipped to handle student queries, says Greg Wilkinson, Trinity Lutheran College’s Director of Digital Learning and Innovation.
“Very shortly the ZenoBot will take advantage of more advanced AI and speech recognition so that our students can start to ask the avatar complex questions,” Mr Wilkinson says.
“Right now a student working on transitive verbs with the ZenoBot can ask it to repeat its explanations, but after the update the ZenoBot will be able to respond to specific questions, such as whether certain words are transitive verbs.”
ZenoBot is the brainchild of Dr Johann DeBeer, an education professor and founder of Brisbane-based List Premier which also produces interactive whiteboards and projectors.
Beyond the classroom, Dr DeBeer expects the avatar technology to be embraced by corporates and government to handle a range of roles from customer service to staff training. Australian mining companies are already using ZenoBot to deliver health and safety training.
In the classroom, DeBeer sees the ZenoBot as a way to re-engage with students who are spending a growing amount of time with tablets.
“Tablet use was originally introduced to streamline classes and ease pressure on educators, but my concern is that tablets liSoftware Co social engagement and they also leave students more open to distraction,” Dr DeBeer says. “ZenoBot has the capacity to enhance and enrich the learning process through delivery of content in a different yet collaborative way.”
“We have found that the use of ZenoBot on an interactive touch board is much more effective as it provides one focal point for the class and the students are encouraged to socialise, make eye contact and interact with each other. This provides better control for the teacher and more opportunities to focus on students’ needs.”
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