Robot Assistant Supports Students with Learning Disabilities to Improve Focus

Summary: Researchers have found that QT, a new social robot, effectively improves the focus of children with learning disabilities. The robot’s positive impact on the classroom and learning environment for students with disabilities has been noted by the researchers. QT’s success in helping these students stay on task and engaged in their school work is a promising development that could potentially transform how students with learning disabilities are supported in the classroom.

Source: University of Waterloo

Engineering researchers have found that the robot’s positive contributions to the learning environment have the potential to close the achievement gap for students with learning disabilities.

A new study has found that the use of robots as teaching assistants in classrooms can help improve the focus and academic performance of students with learning disabilities. The study, conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Kerstin Dautenhahn, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, found that the robot assistant, named QT, made significant positive contributions to the classroom and learning environment for students with learning disabilities.

The study involved a small humanoid robot that interacted with students, providing personalized support and helping them stay on task. The researchers found that both the students and their instructors valued the robot’s positive contributions, which significantly impacted the students’ focus and academic performance.

Dr. Dautenhahn, who has been working on robotics in the context of disability for many years, said, “The findings imply that the robot has a positive effect on students and that there is great potential for using robots in the public education system.” The researchers hope their work will pave the way for more research into using social robots to help students with learning disabilities.

While educators have previously explored using social robots to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, little work has been done on using socially assistive robots for students with learning disabilities. The new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Waterloo and the Learning Disabilities Society in Vancouver, is a significant step forward.

QT Humanoid robot. Credit: University of Waterloo

The study’s findings suggest that robots can provide valuable support to students with learning disabilities, helping to close the achievement gap and improve learning outcomes. With further research and development, the use of robot assistants in classrooms may become a more common and effective tool for helping students with disabilities to succeed.

In a recent research project, 16 students with learning disabilities were divided into two groups. One group worked with an instructor only, while the other group worked with both an instructor and a small humanoid robot named QT. The instructor directed the robot, which used a tablet to trigger various activities such as games, riddles, jokes, breathing exercises, and physical movements to keep the students on track. The researchers found that students who worked with the robot were generally more engaged and could complete tasks faster than those who worked only with the instructor.

The robot was able to set goals, provide self-regulating strategies to students, and redirect them back to the task if they became off-track. “This type of robot may have great potential in public education systems,” said Dr. Kerstin Dautenhahn, an electrical and computer engineering professor. The study was presented at the International Conference on Social Robotics in Florence, Italy.