I, Ro­bot, am your al­ge­bra teacher

Vir­tual as­sis­tant Amy is evolv­ing fast, writes Anuja Nad­karni.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

Schoolkids strug­gling with maths are now be­ing tu­tored by an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence ro­bot named Amy.

The Amy pro­to­type be­ing tri­alled in 10 high schools around the coun­try is a friendly cy­clop­tic an­i­ma­tion de­vel­oped by com­puter sci­en­tists at an Auck­land busi­ness hub.

She can’t pro­vide a shoul­der to cry on like Rosie from The Jet­sons. But she is still evolv­ing and could soon be per­son­alised by stu­dents to look like their favourite teacher.

The tu­tor­ing busi­ness Os­nova plans to re­lease a new ver­sion of Amy in term three. The com­pany has raised about $100,000 in cap­i­tal so far and hopes to raise an­other $300,000 from in­vestors at Flux, a small busi­ness ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gramme.

Os­nova co-founder Raphael Nolden in­sisted Amy was a part­ner for real teach­ers, not a re­place­ment.

‘‘Pair­ing teach­ers with AI can cre­ate a much more ef­fec­tive learn­ing process for stu­dents,’’ Nolden said.

‘‘No one be­came a teacher to do pa­per­work, so com­puter sys­tems can do that while teach­ers can get feed­back to cor­rect mis­takes or mis­con­cep­tions.’’

Christchurch dad Chris Elles saw the Amy pro­to­type on so­cial me­dia and signed up his sons Ai­den, 12, and Ash, 10.

They use Amy in ad­di­tion to other on­line maths learn­ing plat­forms, but they en­joy her in­ter­ac­tive na­ture.

The boys are now above av­er­age in their classes.

Elles said the data would pro­vide ac­cu­rate feed­back for par­ents and teach­ers on stu­dent per­for­mance.

How­ever, he is clear on Amy’s place in education, and it’s fair to say he won’t be putting her name for­ward this week when nom­i­na­tions open for the New Zealand Favourite Teacher Awards (favouriteteacher.co.nz), in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Sun­day Star-Times, TVNZ’s Break­fast and Matilda, the stage show.

‘‘It would be stupid to think ro­bots will re­place teach­ers. The tech­nol­ogy will let teach­ers see the in­di­vid­u­alised data to un­der­stand their stu­dents.’’

World-renowned New Zealand ed­u­ca­tion­al­ist Pro­fes­sor John Hat­tie said teach­ers were the sin­gle big­gest in­flu­ence on chil­dren’s suc­cess – far more than their schools, their fam­i­lies and tech­nol­ogy.

So do ro­botic tu­tors cel­e­brate teach­ing as a high-sta­tus pro­fes­sion, or turn it into an au­to­mated pro­duc­tion line?

Nolden cre­ated Amy with com­puter sci­ence tu­tor An­to­nia Mod­kova, and hu­man-ro­bot in­ter­ac­tion ex­pert Jur­gen Brand­stet­ter. They drew on re­search from world lead­ers in education, and worked with a num­ber of New Zealand maths teach­ers.

The pro­to­type be­ing tested is for Year 11 NCEA maths stu­dents, but in the fu­ture Amy will also in­clude the Cam­bridge cur­ricu­lum and ex­pand into other sub­jects.

Os­nova founders Jur­gen Brand­stet­ter, An­to­nia Mod­kova and Raphael Nolden have cre­ated an AI maths tu­tor named Amy.

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