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Robots enter the classroom to help boost teachers’ performance

New ‘Swivl’ robot technology being used by Irish teacher education college Hibernia

The Swivl robot records trainee teachers’ interactions with students to help them assess their own performance in the classroom

Are robots finally taking over our classrooms? Not quite, but they have entered Irish schools for the first time as part of a new project to monitor the performance of trainee teachers.

Hibernia College, the teacher education provider, has been piloting the use of a new “Swivl” robot with some of its trainees over recent months.

The robot – connected to a smartphone or iPad – rotates and tilts to video the teacher’s every interaction with students.

The idea is the teacher can then review the footage of their class later to identify ways of improving.

Leonie Canavan is one of the first trainee teachers to use the new technology in the classroom.

“Everyone hates looking or listening back to themselves – but you get used to it after a while,” she says.

It also took a while for pupils in her third and fourth classes to get used to the idea of a small robot tilting and turning and recording the class.

“The kids were really entertained by it at first . . . I had third and fourth classes, they were all asking questions at first . . . When they realised it was following me, not them, the novelty wore off.”

Teacher-training process

Part of the teacher-training process requires students to assess their own performance in the class.

Hibernia says it noticed this was proving to be a tricky assignment for some students – which is where the robot comes in.

Ms Canavan says she immediately noticed a range of areas where she could improve when she watched herself back on video.

One was how to wrap classes up more effectively; another was to inject more enthusiasm when praising students.

“You might think you sound enthusiastic in class, but looking back I realised that to children I probably didn’t. So, I realised you’ve to be more enthusiastic in giving positive reinforcement.”

Sean Rowland, founder of Hibernia, says the idea for the project came out of Harvard, where academics have been researching ways of digitising the supervision aspects of teacher training.

Cost-saving exercise

While some might suspect that using technology to monitor teaching standards is a cost-saving exercise, Hibernia’s director of primary education Mary Kelly insists it is not the case.

“This is an add-on, it can’t be a replacement. We’re about quality and producing the best teachers we can. So, they still have face-to-face visits [with supervisors] and get feedback sessions.”

Hibernia College plans to roll out the programme to all students on teaching practice from September, provided the individual schools and parents agree.

As for Ms Canavan, she’s comfortable with the technology and wants to use it in the next year of her teacher training.

“None of us likes constructive criticism, it’s human nature. But this is a good way of getting better. I’d like to bring it in my next placement and see how I progress.”

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