Robots Help Children with Learning Disabilities Stay Focused


A team of engineering researchers at the University of Waterloo have successfully developed and used robots to help children with learning disabilities stay focused on their work.

This is part of a larger study that also found that children and their instructors appreciate the positive classroom contributions made by robots.

Research paper titled “Evaluation of Social Robot Users as a Tool in a One-to-one Instructional Setting for Students with Learning Disabilitiespresented at the Social Robotics International Conference in Florence, Italy.

The Potential of Robots in the Public Education System

Dr. Kerstin Dautenhahn is a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“There is great potential for using robots in the public education system,” said Dautenhahn. “Overall, the findings imply that robots have a positive effect on students.”

Dautenhahn has devoted several years to researching robotics in the context of disability and strives to incorporate the principles of equity, inclusion and diversity into his research projects.

Individual learning supports, such as one-to-one instruction and the use of smartphones and tablets, may prove beneficial for students with learning disabilities.

Recently, educators have explored using social robots to aid student learning, especially focusing on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to the use of social assistance robots for students with learning disabilities.

Experimenting With the Humanoid Robot QT

Working closely with two other Waterloo engineering researchers and three experts from the Learning Disabilities Society in Vancouver, Dautenhahn set out to address this gap. They conducted a series of experiments using a small humanoid robot named QT.

As Canada’s 150th Research Chair in Intelligent Robotics, Dautenhahn believes that QT’s head and hand movements, speech, and facial expressions make it particularly suitable for use with children with learning disabilities.

Building on previous successful research, the team divided 16 students with learning disabilities into two groups. The first group received one-to-one instructions, while the second group received one-to-one instructions and interacted with the QT robot. The instructor directs the robot through the tablet, and then performs various activities independently using its speech and gestures.

During the session, the instructor maintains control, with a robot periodically taking over, prompted by the instructor, to lead students. The robot initiates sessions, sets goals, and provides self-regulation strategies as needed. If the learning process is interrupted, the robot applies strategies such as games, puzzles, jokes, breathing exercises and physical movement to direct students back to the task.

According to Dautenhahn, students who work with robots are generally more involved with their assignments and can complete their assignments faster than students who are not assisted by robots.


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