11 Sep 2019


Robotics can attract and inspire students. It was therefore suggested as a way of helping students with significant difficulties in learning scientific concepts and often with significant misconceptions. To improve the learning of STEM disciplines, educators suggested that robotics from middle school through college should be integrated into schools. Despite the high expectations in these contexts from educational robotics activities and its hypothesized potential to improve motivation and learning, relatively few research projects have been carried out to study these issues.

Many schools participate through competitions like the Lego robotics activities. Others participate as after school activities with robotics, while some have included robotics in their curriculum. Robotics allows students to be active by manipulating technology as they build knowledge. The majority of students mentioned that the robotics project had a positive impact on their motivation to learn and interest in science and engineering specialization.

Benefits of social robots as tutoring agents

Demographic and economic factors drive the need for technological support in education. Shrinking school budgets, increasing student numbers per classroom, and demanding greater curriculum customization for children with diverse needs are fueling technology-based support research that increases parents’ and teachers’ efforts. These systems most commonly take the form of a software system that provides support for one-on-one tutoring. In terms of both cognitive and affective outcomes, social interaction enhances human learning. Research has suggested that some of these behavioral influences also translate into robots-humans interactions. While robots that do not display social behavior can be used as educational tools for teaching technology to students, Robots specifically designed to support education through social interactions. Because virtual agents (presented on laptops, tablets, or phones) can offer some of the same capabilities, but without the need for additional hardware, maintenance, and distribution and installation challenges, it must be explicitly justified to use a robot in an educational setting. Compared to virtual agents, physically embodied robots offer three advantages:

(i) they can be used for curricula or populations requiring engagement with the physical world;

(ii) users show more social behaviors that are useful for learning when engaging with a physically embodied system; and

(iii) users show increased learning gains when interacting with physically embodied systems.

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. Furthermore, some populations may require a system that is physically embodied. Robots have already been proposed to help people with visual impairments and show only minimal learning gains when provided with educational content via screens for typically developing children under the age of two.

Furthermore, robot tutors are often expected to be able to move through dynamic and populated spaces and manipulate the physical environment. 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. These challenges are not exclusive to social robotics and robot tutors, but the added elements that make the robot work near and with (young) learners add complexities that are often ignored in navigation and manipulation. Furthermore, physical robots are more likely to elicit social behaviors that benefit learning from users. Robots in cooperative tasks can be more engaging and enjoyable than a virtual agent and are often more positively perceived. Importantly for tutoring systems, physically present robots, even when those requests are challenging, yield significantly more compliance to their requests than a video representation of the same robot. Lastly, physical robots have increased learning and have more significantly impacted later behavioral choices than virtual agents. Robots have produced faster learning in cognitive puzzles compared to instructions from virtual characters, robots videos, or audio-only lessons. When compared to virtual agents or robots displayed on screens, the physical presence of a robot led to positive perceptions and increased task performance.

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