Name: Negin Azizi
Date: Nov 28, 2022
Supervisor: Kerstin Dautenhahn
Title: Exploring the Use of Assistive Robotics in Play and Education, for Children with Disabilities
Abstract: Assistive technologies in general, and socially assistive robots in particular, are being studied extensively to maintain and increase the capabilities of individuals with disabilities. However, there are aspects in this field that have not been explored yet. This thesis investigates the use of assistive robots for different groups of children with disabilities, such as learning disabilities, and upper-limb disorders. We began by exploring learning disabilities and their challenges.
Students with a learning disability (LD) generally require supplementary one-to-one instruction and support to acquire the foundational academic skills learned at school. Because learning is more difficult for students with LD, students can frequently display off-task behaviours to avoid attempting or completing challenging learning tasks. Re-directing students back to their learning task is a frequent strategy used by educators to support students. However, there have been limited studies investigating the use of assistive technology to support student re-direction, specifically in a "real-world'' educational setting. We investigated the impact of integrating a socially assistive robot to provide re-direction strategies to students. A social robot, QT, was employed within the existing learning program during one-to-one remedial instruction sessions.
First, we conducted a pilot study to explore the impact of the robot on students' on-task behaviours and progress towards learning goals. The results of our mixed method analysis suggest that the robotic intervention supported students in staying on-task and completing their learning goal.
Learning from the lessons of the pilot study, we designed a between-participant study with two conditions, control, and intervention with the QT robot to address the shortcomings of the pilot study. In the main study we aimed a) to evaluate the acceptance of the social robot by the users, i.e., instructors and students in a real-world educational setting; and b) understand the impact of the robot’s intervention on student's engagement during learning tasks over multiple learning sessions. Our qualitative analysis suggests that instructors and students showed positive attitudes towards the social robot in their one-to-one sessions. In addition, the students were more engaged with their task in the presence of the robot, and displayed fewer off-task behaviours in the intervention condition, compared to the control condition. These results suggest that a social robot can be used as an effective educational tool for instructors in boosting engagement and mitigating off-task behaviours for students with learning disabilities.
Assistive technology can also be beneficial in play, especially for children that face barriers in physical activities due to their physical impairments.
In the third study, we focused on children with upper-limb disorders and the lack of equipment and enjoyable experiences in games. While game-play is widely used in human robot interaction studies, using a robot as a play-mediator, where two individuals interact with each other through a robot, has not been fully studied yet. However, understanding the play dynamics of this type of game is an important step toward designing an engaging experience.
In this work, participants played two collaborative games which involved teleoperating a mobile robot. Each game consisted in achieving the same task, but involved two different collaboration strategies: one where the players shared tasks and one where joint action was necessary. In this study, we focused on how both players collaborated with each other in terms of coordination and communication using video and joystick data. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we were not able to recruit children with physical disabilities. Instead, we recruited university students to participate in the study to collect data. Results indicated different behavioural events and observed different levels of communication among the two conditions.
The present work contributes to robotic assistive technologies by providing support for children with learning disabilities and upper-limb disorders in different aspects of their life, such as education and play.