Oracy and Robots

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Before you start wondering, Noisy Classroom hasn’t decided to move into the field of robotics (at least, not yet). Today, we are thinking about how technology can have an impact on oracy.

While they may have been slow to adapt, schools have now embraced technology; from smart whiteboards in the classroom, to biometric scanners in the canteen. Students can film speeches while they are rehearsing and then watch them back. Teachers can stream videos of fantastic (or not so fantastic) political debates. Homework can be posted online, free from the risk of being eaten by any over-enthusiastic canines…

We are also, however, aware of the potential dangers of being over-reliant on technology. Every few months there is a new scare, blaming the ills of today on video games/social media/smartphones etc.

For better or for worse, it is clear that technology has changed not just our society, but also our selves.

What about oracy? Surely technology isn’t changing the way that we talk?

Well, the signs seem to suggest that it is.

Teenagers are increasingly communicating virtually, rather than in person. Great for those who are shy, or who seek a different community than that which is geographically closest to them. Less good for developing inter-personal skills and practising basic conversations.

A recent Washington Post article discussed the ways in which voice-activated assistants (such as Apple’s ‘Siri’ or Amazon’s ‘Alexa’) are changing the way that children talk.

Voice-activated assistants are great for distracting impatient children, answering those endless ‘but why?!’ questions, and possibly improve pronunciation too.

However, you don’t need to say ‘please’ when you are talking to a robot. A complicated question may warrant the response of “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”; regular interaction with a voice-activated assistant encourages children to favour blunt, simple questions over ones that use more complicated language or grammar.

Clearly, the dangers here need to be put in perspective. Children will still have regular conversations with parents, friends, relatives and teachers. There will still be plenty of space for them to develop their informal, conversational speaking skills. Nevertheless, as robotic assistants become more and more common, we need to think about how these interactions are changing – and possibly harming – children’s oracy development.

Google, Amazon, Apple – if you’re reading this and want our help, feel free to get in touch!


Alice Coombes Huntley,
Head of Programmes, The Noisy Classroom




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