Educational Technology: Not Just Computers


    This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

    A question from the West Bank: Zuheir Khlaif wants to know how American schools use educational technology.

    There is not a simple answer. It depends on the subject and level of students, of course. But it also depends on the interest and training of the teachers, and the goals and budgets of the schools.

    Schools are almost all connected to the Internet. But some have more technology, and use it more, than others. For example, some schools use computers for activities like video conferencing, to bring the world into the classroom.

    Calculus teacher Shane Costello uses a Smart Board to teach his class in Pinedale, Wyoming
    Calculus teacher Shane Costello uses a Smart Board to teach his class in Pinedale, Wyoming
    And some classrooms are equipped with things like a Smart Board, a kind of interactive whiteboard. Interactive whiteboards are large displays for presentations. They connect to a computer and can operate by touch. They can be used for documents or writing or to project video.

    Some teachers are trying creative new ways to teach with devices like iPods and mobile phones. But educators say the most important thing, as always, is the content. 

    Yet technology can have special importance in some cases. Cosmobot is a therapy robot. It stands about half a meter tall and has a blue body and a friendly face with big eyes.

    One child who works with it is six-year-old Kevin Fitzgerald. Kevin has developmental dyspraxia; he has difficulty moving his mouth and tongue.

    He works with Carole Semango-Sprouse as he interacts with the Cosmobot during therapy for his condition. Here, he uses a set of buttons attached to a computer to make the silent robot move forward, backward or around in circles.

    Carole Samango-Sprouse with Kevin Fitzgerald
    Carole Samango-Sprouse with Kevin Fitzgerald

    KEVIN: "Om here ..."

    CAROLE SEMANGO-SPROUSE: "Good boy. Call him again! Come here!"

    KEVIN: "Om ere ... "

    CAROLE SEMANGO-SPROUSE: "Perfect! Say it again, Kev! Come here."

    KEVIN: "Om ere."

    CAROLE SEMANGO-SPROUSE: "Good boy. That's beautiful."

    Kevin's mother thinks the robot has had a calming influence, helping her son get along better with his friends.

    Cosmobot by AnthroTronix
    Cosmobot was developed by AnthroTronix. Corinna Lathan started the company ten years ago to work with children with cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities.

    Children become friends with the robot, she says. That can have a big effect on their behavior, helping them work harder and longer in therapy sessions.

    Corinna Lathan is currently working with a British company to develop other socially assistive robots. She says they are still considered research tools in the United States, and not used as much as in places like Britain and Japan. But she hopes to change that.

    And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach with Julie Taboh. Transcripts and podcasts are at I'm Steve Ember.