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Robots can be used to increase engagement.The engagement of children with profound learning difficulties can be significantly improved by using a humanoid robot as an educational tool, researchers have found. A team from Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham found that engagement for pupils interacting with the autonomous “NAO” robot was up to five times greater than when they were in a standard classroom setting.

Five pupils aged nine to 17, with SEN including cerebral palsy, autism and developmental delays, were set individual learning objectives before being videoed as they interacted with the robot across a number of sessions. Their objectives included symbol recognition and task sequencing, number recognition, communication improvement, direction learning and understanding cause and effect.

Video analysis software was also used to measure the pupils’ level of engagement, goal achievement and the amount of assistance required by teaching staff.

The study measured engagement using an engagement profile scale created by the SSAT (The Schools Network) Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities project. It showed that for every pupil, engagement when working with the robot was higher than when they were working in class. Engagement of three out of the five pupils more than doubled on the engagement profile scale, with one pupil’s engagement rising from four to 25, and another’s from six to 25.

“Engagement is thought to be the single best predictor of successful learning in children with intellectual disabilities and we have demonstrated here how robots can be used to increase engagement,” said David Brown, Professor in Interactive Systems for Social Inclusion at Nottingham Trent University.
The programmable NAO humanoid robot, produced by Aldebaran Robotics in France, is more advanced than robots used in similar studies, with capabilities including speech, speech recognition, sitting, standing, walking, dancing and playing sound files.

The results of the pilot study were presented at the 2013 Interactive Technologies and Games (ITAG) conference, held in Nottingham in October.

 

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