About Keith

Keith Brawner currently works in the simulation industry for the DoD, before, during, and after getting a Masters in Intelligent Systems. Sadly, he is not yet a Doctor.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Exploring the Possibility of Using Humanoid Robots as Instructional Tools for Teaching a Second Language in Primary School

Exploring the Possibility of Using Humanoid Robots as Instructional Tools for Teaching a Second Language in Primary School was written out in National Central University (Taiwan) by Chang, Lee, Chao, Wang, and Chen.  It can be found for free online here (page 18)).

Mostly just chilling at home, and hanging out with friends (trivia, D&D, dinner), and going to work.  All is clear on this eastern front.  Oh yea, and we've been goofing around with the Sony 900BC eReader, which is proving itself useful for reading Dune, Ghost in the Shell, and, of course, more research papers!


This paper is unusual in the sense that it doesn't actually propose a problem.  The problem is well studied: people learn foreign languages poorly.  With that said, we will study the availability of specific tools to tackle it.  Today's tool: Robots.

Our research teacher in high school was fond of saying that you are not to say "I hypothesize that RAID will kill roaches".  Instead, you are to say "I hypothesize that the addition of RAID to roaches will have a measurable effect with regard to activity, food intake, etc.".  For those of us watching carefully, all we said there was that we thing something will happen, and will measure some stuff to see if something happened.  Today we think that robots will have a net benefit effect on the classroom.

Why and How?
Robots have some of the benefits listed to the left, with regards to teaching.  The researchers here made 5 modes of operation in order to attempt engagement:
  • Storytelling - robots tells a story in a foreign language, complete with different voices for characters
  • Oral Reading - Robot reads a printed story aloud, and calls upon children to help it
  • Cheerleader - Robot encourages students to participate in games, and does dances when students get the answers right
  • Action Command - Robot plays Simon Says with the students
  • Question-and-answer - Robot talks to students, asks them to introduce themselves, introduces itself, etc.  Robot plays the role of a foreign persona (male or female)
When there is a robot in the class (doing the above):
  • Students respond more loudly, speak more often, ask more questions, listen quieter, and watch the robot intensely (according to teacher survey)
  • Shier students interact more, while more outgoing students interact for longer periods of time
  • Teachers reported offloading of teaching as a robot can perform roles of either sex while the teacher is limited to one, mostly.
  • Teacher had additional time to work with poorer students while everyone was distracted with a robot. 
  • They report lack of training
  • Complicated technology 
  • Decaying motivation
  • Robot shows no emotion
Robots are awesome.  When students are talking to a robot they are more engaged, and talk/practice their language skills more often.  This technology can be coupled with Affective Tutoring in order to further help the learner.

Why do you care? 
Coming in at a whopping price of $250 (or roughly 5 textbooks), we may see the involvement of robotic helpers in the school system relatively soon.  These advances, coupled with the advancement of image/face recognition could result in genuine custom tutoring available for relatively cheap.

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