[This style of learning] has been shown to help children catch back up to the rest of the class in other areas, like reading, for example.
‘There’s a thought that a lot of learning by teaching is mental, it’s not necessarily about the physical … but just evaluating someone else’s thinking: Was that correct? Who’s in the right here? What do I have to change about the way that I’m explaining things or the way that I understand things so that we match?’
Hood worked on the CHILI Lab (Computer-Human Interaction in Learning and Instruction) CoWriter project for her Master’s thesis under the supervision of scientist Séverin Lemaignan. ‘Pretty much all that you see, except for the robot itself, I had to program,’ she tells Teacher.
‘Because this robot is cheap enough that schools can afford it [around AUD$8000], it doesn’t actually have the physical capabilities to write with a pen. So, it will mimic writing a word that is artificially bad, then the child will draw on the tablet with a stylus and the robot will adapt to their corrections.’
She adds that by taking the role of teacher, the child becomes invested in the progress of the robot – leading to increased motivation and engagement. This relationship also allows students who need intervention to practice their handwriting skills in a way that boosts their self-esteem.
The system has already undergone initial field tests in a school setting with students aged six to eight. ‘We wanted to get this in the hands of children as quickly as we could so that we could redirect the project if necessary. So, that was probably after four or five months of development.’
Hood says the technology is still in the prototype stage and future steps would include conducting long-term trials. Still, the results from the initial field tests are promising.
‘We got what we wanted from that, which was that the children could actually ‘teach’ the robot, and that it was improving and whatnot. Also, I think what’s interesting about this project is how we have leveraged the combination of the robot and the tablet together to actually make it so that you can use a cheap robot in this [kind of educational setting].’