Monday, January 20, 2020
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Quinn the robot teaches geometry in groups

Research teams at New York University, Arizona State, and Carleton University have created rTAG, a tangible learning environment that utilizes teachable agent framing, together with a physical robotic agent to get students away from the traditional computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse.


Quinn provides feedback to students using a facial emotion set, including smiles. (Pete Zrioka/NYU)

Using the robots encourages collaboration among student, which fosters learning better than having students work individually with their electronic devices.

“Our findings are in agreement with some previous research, which shows that group experiences appear to foster participation,” says Winslow Burleson, PhD, an associate professor at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing, the principal investigator on the study. “Designers should model systems with tangible and embodied elements which explore their affordances to foster collaboration by design, rather than planning for students to individually use the technology.”

Technology and devices have been integrated into the learning process at many schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, at the end of the last decade, some 97 percent of US teachers had one or more computers located in the classroom every day, and the ratio of students to computers in the classroom every day was a little over 5 to 1. With the advent of tablet and hand-held computing devices, this ratio is fast approaching 1 to 1.

Up until very recently, mainstream educational software for computing devices in the classroom has been designed based upon a style of interaction utilizing the traditional WIMP (window, icon, menu, pointing device) paradigm. Student engagement is then an isolated one-on-one experience, individual student to individual machine.

To better engage students with their environment through educational technologies, researchers have begun exploring a variety of solutions that provide more embodied and tangible interactions ranging from collaborative activities surrounding an interactive tabletop, to interactive robots that teach language learning.

“Successful integration of any new technology into the classroom environment requires an understanding of the facilitators for and barriers to deployment,” says Winslow Burleson, PhD, an associate professor at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing, the principal investigator on the study. “While such technologies are shown to be highly engaging for students and perhaps foster learning in new ways, our research looks at the need to understand the far-reaching utility of these technologies, particularly in classroom settings.”

In order to examine how the utility of one such solution played out in a classroom setting, Burleson teamed up with researchers from Arizona State University and Carleton University to study the implementation of a tangible learning environment that utilizes teachable agent framing coupled with a physical robotic agent—Robo-Tangible Activities for Geometry (rTAG).

The paper was presented at CHI’16 (the 2016 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems) in May in San Jose, California. See pages 919-930 here.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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