15 Apr 2019


Social robots can be used as tutors or peer students in education. They have been shown to be effective in increasing cognitive and affective outcomes and have achieved results similar to those of restricted tasks in human tutoring. By impacting on pre-existing economic and social structures, robotics has the potential to drastically alter societies. Robots are aimed at delivering learning experience through social interaction with learners as opposed to robots used as pedagogical tools for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Robots can also support learning through peer-to-peer relationships, beyond the typical role of a teacher or tutor, and can support skill consolidation and mastery by acting as a novice. Technologies–and robotics are no exception, as they are a means of achieving a goal or vision, and not a goal or vision in itself. It is up the people who are creating and developing these technologies, to decide what we want them to do.

Roles for educational robots.

• Robot as an educational subject

Children learn basic algorithms by programming objects and actions in early primary classes between the ages of 5 and 6. They are offered robots throughout their schooling that follow their progress. There are also a number of competitions that have been built and programmed at different levels using robots.

• Robots as learning tools

Robots support educational activities, for example, the use of simulation is an important means of learning in medical and healthcare education in order to improve patient safety and quality of care. Implementing more realistic simulation-based teaching methodologies, serving as a bridge between acquiring and applying clinical skills, knowledge, and attributes, is increasingly using robotic simulators.

• Telepresence robots

These devices make it possible for children who are sick or hospitalized to “virtually” attend school sessions by taking control of a teleoperated robot. With a “collaborative, complementary robot-human” approach, we can add a 4th role to assist educational professionals in their daily tasks. For example, robots can account for students ‘ presence or absence, welcome them by name into the classroom, etc., allowing the teacher to focus on their pedagogical goal.

It is generally agreed that robots are a motivating tool for students to pursue STEM studies and a pedagogical tool for STEM:

• Robots reinforce scientific and technological culture in schools

• Robots are tools to facilitate knowledge transfer through trans-disciplinary activity-based projects

• Robots are good tools to apply scientific thinking (for example through research-based activities).

• Robots are ideal artifacts for concretizing abstract knowledge, e.g. for teaching real-world math, science, programming and engineering applications. Some professionals also claim that robots are certainly relevant and effective in an educational context beyond the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Benefits of robots as tutoring agents

As a tutor or teacher, through hints, tutorials, and supervision, robots provide direct curriculum support. These types of educational robots have the longest history of research and development, including teaching assistant robots, often targeting curriculum domains for young children. Demographic and economic factors drive the need for technological support in education. Robots are a natural choice when direct physical manipulation of the world requires the material to be taught. For example, tutoring physical skills with a virtual agent, such as handwriting or free throwing basketball, may be more challenging, and this approach is also taken in many rehabilitation-or therapy-focused applications.

Robots have already been proposed to help visually impaired individuals and to generally develop children under the age of two who show only minimal learning gains when they are provided with educational content via screens. Robot tutors are expected to be able to move and manipulate the physical environment through dynamic and populated spaces. Although not always needed in the educational context, there are some scenarios where the learning experience benefits from the robot being able to manipulate objects and move autonomously, such as supporting physical experimentation or moving to the learner instead of the learner moving to the robot. Physical robots are more likely to elicit social behaviors that benefit learning from users and robots can be more engaging and enjoyable in cooperative tasks than a virtual agent and are often more positively perceived.

Importantly for tutoring systems, physically present robots yield significantly more compliance with their requests, even when those requests are challenging, than a video representation of the same robot – Human tutors provide a standard gold benchmark for tutoring interactions while trained tutors are able to adapt to learner needs and modify learning strategies to maximize learning. The robot’s social behavior must be carefully designed in conjunction with the context and task of interaction to enhance educational interaction and avoid distraction of students. The positive cognitive and affective learning outcomes of robot tutors may not be caused directly by the robot with a physical presence, but rather the robot’s physical presence promotes social behaviors in the learner, which in turn foster learning and create a positive learning experience. It has been shown that robots have a positive impact on compliance, commitment, and conformity which in turn is conducive to learning gains.

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