Researchers studying the potential benefits of using the latest technology in the world of robotics and AI in the education of young children have discovered that interacting with robots can help young students master skills they are struggling with. The research focused on youngsters struggling with handwriting and found that it improved markedly when they are asked to teach robots that seem to be struggling with the same difficulties.
A small humanoid robot named Michael to make it more relatable and ‘friendly’ in the eyes of children was programmed to help children aged between 4 and 8 struggling to iron out common handwriting problems such as parts of letters being out of scale or written at the wrong angle. But rather than directly instructing the children, Michael instead asks for their assistance in helping him correct his own poor handwriting. He complains to them that his grades are suffering as a result. Children at two schools were given regular 15-minute sessions during which they had to help Michael up his handwriting game.
The robot would write a letter on a screen and request the child correct it. The child would have to move a slider that changed its shape, then draw the letter themselves using a stylus. Three different scenarios, two of which proved to be effective, were used in the trials. In the first scenario, Michael’s handwriting improved continuously independently of how well he was tutored by the child working with him. In the second, Michael’s development was in line with the level of teaching he received from the child and in the third the robot failed to improve regardless of the child’s teaching performance.
In the first two scenarios, the child’s handwriting also improved but not in the third, where the competency of both remained unchanged. More than 92% of the pupils subjected to the first scenario and 100% of those in the second rated themselves as a good teacher and also enjoyed tutoring the robot and were keen to do so again. The research was conducted in Lisbon and findings recently published in the International Journal of Social Robotics.
Placing the responsibility on the child to assist the struggling robot was considered key to the success of the experiment and the scientists believe that the technology, if further refined, has shown enough promise to potentially be introduced to schools in the future alongside more traditional methodologies.
One of the research’s authors, Shruti Chandra of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, surmised:
“We were able to conduct two multi-session studies successfully in two schools and the children engaged with the robot through four to six weeks; second, we found that most of the children wanted to teach the robot in the future.
“Overall, the testing of the system in the schools indicates the possibility to use social robots with children to enhance their handwriting legibility.”