Students with disabilities can now benefit from additional learning support.
For several years, educators at the University of Waterloo have explored the possibility of using social robots to help students. Most of the research has been focused on children with autism spectrum disorders. "Certainly, there is great potential for the use of robots in public education," says Dr Kerstin Dautenhahn, professor of electrical engineering.
Scientists have worked on developing and using robots for social inclusion for several decades. Dautenhahn conducted a series of studies and tests featuring a humanoid robot, QT, that can perform gestures, rotate its head, and imitate facial expressions and emotions. The robot's features are critical to supporting children with disabilities. Dautenhahn's experiment was as follows: the researchers divided sixteen students with disabilities into two groups. In one group, students worked only with a teacher-instructor. In the second group, students interacted with the QT robot, too.
In the second group, the teacher-instructor used a tablet to control the robot that helped the students perform certain tasks. Plus, if the learning process went off topic from the initial plan outlined by the teacher, the robot would return to the course content of the lesson. Also, QT can come up with games, riddles, and jokes and perform breathing and other physical exercises with students. Doutenhahn noted, "Children were more engaged in their tasks and were able to complete them faster than those who weren't assisted by the robot."
In the future, scientists are planning mass research using social robots. "The research results show that robots positively impact students," said the scientist.
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