Study to examine how robots can boost learning of pupils with intellectual disabilities


The extent to which robotics can enhance teaching and learning for people with intellectual disabilities is being investigated by researchers.

An EU-funded project, led by Nottingham Trent University, aims to better understand the potential for robotics-based education in motivating and engaging those with a wide range of disabilities. 
It follows a pilot project involving the university last year, which showed how using a humanoid robot as an educational tool significantly boosted engagement of pupils with learning disabilities compared with a standard classroom setting.
A team of experts will programme existing robotic platforms – including the autonomous NAO humanoid robot – to interact with pupils of all ages across Europe over various educational tasks. 
As well as academic subjects such as maths and science, tasks will aim to challenge pupils with objectives set around communication improvement, sequencing, understanding cause and effect, and other social and digital competencies.
Interactions will be analysed by experts to measure levels of engagement, goal achievement and the amount of assistance required by teaching staff.

It is hoped that the two and half year project will provide evidence of the effectiveness of robotics-based teaching and learning for people with intellectual disabilities such as cerebral palsy and autism. 
“The future of education for pupils with intellectual disabilities is robotics,” said David Brown, Professor in Interactive Systems for Social Inclusion at Nottingham Trent University.

He said: “Educating young people with intellectual disabilities presents different challenges due to cognitive impairments and communicational difficulties. The use of robotics in special education should be explored as these technologies are starting to become more widespread, affordable and highly engaging.

“We want to find out which are the most effective platforms, and for which pupils, and make recommendations to teachers and schools which could form part of a curriculum of robotics. There is a real need for technical intervention in this area, we just need to know the best way to apply it.
“Engagement is thought to be the single best predictor of successful learning in children with intellectual disabilities, and in our previous work we have already demonstrated how robots can be used to significantly increase engagement.”
Findings from the study will be shared with special education schools, teachers and parents, policy makers and people with disabilities. 

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