Teaching skills to robots helps children learn

Researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have just presented CoWriter, their new robotic teaching system, at the Conference on Human-Robot Interaction in the U.S.

The system consists of a 58cm tall humanoid robot model plus specialist software that allows the robot to write words, and for its handwriting to improve over time. It’s based on a database of human writing examples and designed to help children who are struggling to learn to write.

Learning by teaching has been found to improve self-esteem and motivation, but for pupils who are struggling the most, until now there was no way for them to put that into action. With CoWriter, they can demonstrate how to write letters using a tablet and stylus, and the robot will copy them, improving over time at a pace set by the teacher. (Check it out in action on YouTube.) It can even be programmed to struggle with the same legibility issues as a particular student, so that by giving it special attention in that one area, they’ll also improve.

It’s only in the prototype stage for now, but has been trialled for six to eight year olds in primary school lessons and in individual tutoring, and both children and their teachers have embraced the experience. The researchers want to do more studies over the next few months to quantify its benefits and prove its usefulness, and then they’ll no doubt be trying to bring their robots to a school classroom near you.

Image via Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s YouTube.

Diane Shipley