Even though the word “robot” still insidiously brings the movie Terminator to mind, robots are almost boringly commonplace. They have taken over many routine tasks, for example, in the field of manufacturing. Nevertheless, there has not been so much discussion about robotics in education. If the topic pops up, the debate is normally about robots replacing teachers which is a pity as robots have a huge potential in assisting students and teachers. Just like online learning.
So, what is a social robot if not a Terminator?
A social robot can be described as an advanced technological device that has human-like characteristics. A social robot manages functions and gestures that characterize human behavior and social interaction. Social robots can be humanoids, very mechanical-looking devices, or animal or toy-like objects that seem to engage students the most (Kozima & Nagakawa 2006, 271).
One of the most well-known social robots is Aldebaran’s NAO robot, widely used in teaching information technology and natural sciences from primary schools to universities.
So, what do they do to our kids?
By far, most of the research on social robotics has focused on how robots can assist autistic children in learning social skills. The absolute advantage of social robots seems to be their ability to motivate and engage learners.
For example, a social robot can mediate its own engagement and motivation through physical movements and facial expressions (Johnson & Rickel 1999, 13; Kozima & Nagakawa 2006), for example. The appearance of a robot seems to spark children’s curiosity and they tend to take more contact with robots than with adults or peers in a learning situation (Chabibihan etc. 2013). It is the un-human likeness that clearly draws the attention of children but additionally, the novelty aspect of their presence in learning situations also impacts.
Emotional skills, on the other hand, can be learned through interactive storytelling by following a role play between two or more robots (Leite & al., 2015; Feil-Seifer & Mataric 2005, 466). The advantage of a social robot compared to a human in practicing social skills is its ability to limit social stimuli. The robot can mediate only a few basic emotions and does not send conflicting messages (for example the message is not conflicting with the tone of voice). A robot whose emotions do not conflict and who is able to stay calm during the most hectic school day does not sound too bad an option, does it?
Even though there are a lot of advantages, social robots cannot respond to interactive messages of children as well as humans, at least not yet. However, social robots can already give feedback to learners through speech, movement or voice (Chabibihan etc. 2013, 13). For example, robots can provide students with emotional feedback by expressing happiness and satisfaction, or even disappointment.
And the future?
As technology and the AI develop fast, social robots might soon answer even bigger and more demanding requests of education in general. For example, with the help of robots, we could get measurable data about real-life learning events, topics the learners consider interesting and situations in which learners experience boredom or frustration, emotions that prevent learning. This information could then be combined with other data sources, such as online learning environments, to enforce personalization in education.
If robots can be deployed to perform more routine like tasks of a teacher, the human expert could focus more on the development of future working life skills, such as teamwork, self-regulation, development of innovation competence, creativity, and computational skills. It will be interesting to see what teachers, students, and robots can achieve together.
What is your take on robots at school?
[SS1]Feil-Seifer & Mataric 2005, p. 465)
[SS2](Fong, Nourbakhsh & Dautenhahn 2003, 146).
[SS3]According to Feil-Seifer and Mataric (2005, 465
[SS4](Feil-Seifer & Mataric 2005, 465).
[SS5](Salomon & Perkins 2011, 79)
[SS6]As Lukas (2014, 39) suggests,