Classroom Technology

Study: Teachers Are Wary of Using Robots in Class, Despite Seeing Benefits

By Madeline Will — July 13, 2016 3 min read
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Educational robotics have become increasingly reliable, affordable, and appealing, educators in the field believe—yet they still have qualms about using them for instruction, says a new European study that looks at teachers’ attitudes and perceptions of robots in the classroom.

For the study, which was recently published in IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, a team of researchers from NCCR Robotics and the European research unit LSRO, EPFL surveyed a small group of teachers in Switzerland who had completed training sessions in 2013 and 2014 for the Thymio educational robot. Thymio is a small programmable robot on wheels that lights up in different colors (see image on right).

The researchers wanted to see if teachers consider educational

robots to be useful and whether they actually incorporate them as a teaching tool. Only 43 teachers (of various grade levels and subject matters) responded to the survey, so it is a small sample size, and the researchers note that these respondents likely have a positive bias towards robotics considering that they went to a training session. So the results present more of an indication of the perception and motivation of teachers who are interested in robotics than a representative finding on teachers in general.

Allowing for those caveats, the results are still interesting:

  • Most of the teachers in the survey thought the Thymio robot has educational benefits. Some skill-builders listed were: collaboration, communication, creative thinking, and learning strategies.
  • Most of the teachers also said Thymio would work as a pedagogical tool because the robot helps students test hypotheses and draw conclusions, makes abstract knowledge concrete, and is motivating and fun for students.
  • The teachers thought students would easily understand how to use the robot, though they were less confident in their own usage.
  • The teachers with experience in robotics said that computer science skills are not needed to use Thymio, but teachers without any experience thought they needed such skills. The researchers noted that the fear of lacking computer science skills could prevent some teachers from using robotics.
  • Several teachers were worried about issues with the curriculum, saying that it’s hard to fit robotic activities into instruction with limited time available. Teachers felt like setting up the robotic exercises would take up significant time, which would be a burden. (The subject areas teachers found Thymio to be most useful were mathematics and science, followed by general education.)

The study also found that the perceived utility of Thymio decreases when teachers actually use it in their classroom—indicating that using robots in real life can present unforeseen difficulties, the researchers said. They called for more training in robotics for teachers.

These findings would probably hold in United States as well, where educators feel widely enthusiastic about robotics and other classroom technology, but in practice, a lack of training, funding, and wireless-connectivity often keeps those digital tools from being used in their classrooms.

Last month, Education Week published its annual Technology Counts report, which focused on teachers using technology to transform their instruction. An exclusive Education Week Research Center survey found that a majority of teachers see themselves as risk takers or early adopters in using technology—but that on the whole, teachers still struggle to adapt their instruction in a truly innovative way.

Source: Image 1 by Flickr user Virginia Guard Public Affairs, image 2 by Flickr user laurent bolli. Both licensed under Creative Commons.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.