How will robotics affect education?


By Simon Shah, Chief Marketing Officer, Redwood Software

In recent times there’s been much talk about how ‘robots’ (as a broad and ill-defined category) will affect our everyday lives, and jobs, in ways we still can’t quite accurately quantify.

Education is one area that certainly hasn’t escaped scrutiny with concerns expressed about robot tutors taking over at every level of education.

But this focus tends to be on the potential perils of artificial intelligence (another ill-defined term), machine learning and physical robots to humanity, rather than the benefits and challenges of rules-based, structured automation that’s already transforming the classroom.

 

Eliminate educational inefficiency

The weight of responsibility that lies in educating the next generation doesn’t detract from the fact that structurally schools and universities are businesses that face many of the same challenges as other large organizations. Often with multiple stakeholders and customers working across distributed geographies.

Many educational organizations need to deliver better results to ever-increasing numbers of students with dwindling budgets – conditions familiar to many businesses. Automation is already being deployed to address these goals and the growing demands for increased efficiency.

For example, one task that would have a huge impact in terms of outcomes is grading tests and papers. Automation is already capable of removing some of the strain from educators for tasks like grading multiple-choice assignments. And just as in a traditional business environment, this frees staff up to spend more time on more strategic activities. In this case, it allows faculty members to spend more time on teaching activities that require one-to-one interactions and to deliver a more personalized teaching environment.  

Across the entire organization, there are huge amounts of repetitive manual tasks that can be automated – from providing student access to resources to carrying out the necessary tasks when a new student joins a class. These are all activities that are typically carried out manually, but that are entirely automatable.

Spending so much time and money on operational management is an inefficient way for any organization to function. In one long-term analysis of US higher education institutions, a professor at California Polytechnic University found that the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221% increase – between 1975 and 2008, while faculty staff grew by around 10%.

But it’s by no means a US problem. In the UK, administrative and support staff made up over 60% of employees across 27 different universities, and a recent analysis of Australian universities revealed similarly vast inefficiencies.

 

Augmenting, not replacing

The benefits of robotics within education aren’t restricted to mid- and back-office functions. Through effective use of automation, institutions can deliver more of a ‘self-service’ environment in areas where it makes most sense.

Some level of automation has already been in place in education for some time – consider the campus library that’s offered self-checkout of books for several years. This removes manual, repetitive, low-value tasks and frees up valuable resources for higher value tasks that have a more important operational or educational function.

Of course, if we want to make the best possible use of robotics, a transformation needs to take place not just in how students learn and educational organizations operate, but also in the skills being taught – as many previously relied-upon industries will continue to be transformed by automation and robotics.

It might seem a scary proposition, but it’s one that ultimately removes the least desirable aspects of some of the most important jobs.

 

Categories:   Robotics   Robotic Process Automation  

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