School gets new hi-tech assistant to boost digital learning

by Brett Henebery01 Mar 2016

Our Saviour Lutheran Primary School, located in Adelaide, has just welcomed a new hi-tech assistant to boost student engagement in digital learning.

She is smart, personable, 58 centimetres tall and powered by a lithium battery.

The NAO robot – or P!nk, as the school calls her – is part of a collaborative research project between the school, the University of Queensland, the Queensland University of Technology, Swinburne University in Melbourne and the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA).

The aim of the study is to measure the impact on student learning by having a humanoid robot in the classroom.  

NAO robots, developed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French robotics company, have been used for research and education purposes in schools and universities worldwide. As of 2015, over 5,000 NAO robots are in use in over 50 countries.

Ben Curtin, assistant principal of Our Saviour Lutheran Primary School in Adelaide, told The Educator that P!nk is a sign of the “game changing impact” robots could have on education in the future.

“It is still early days, but so far we have seen students actively covering understandings and skills outlined in the curriculum.  By recording their reflections we have noted that students are gaining an understanding of all the components that are working together to make P!nk function,” he explained.

“The students decide on their purpose, and follow the process of investigating, generating, implementing and testing, evaluating, and collaborating.”

Curtin said his teachers have observed that working with the robot incorporates all of the skills that are highlighted in the digital technology curriculum, and gives them the unique ability to test their work on the robot and receive immediate feedback.

“Students are very comfortable working with each other and have indicated on student surveys that they actually prefer working with a partner or a small group with the robot because it helps them to fix problems and generate solutions,” he said.

“This is a great shift away from the traditional way of using technology in a school, where students would work on one computer alone and frequently give up due to frustration or boredom.”

So in what ways might this technology complement existing efforts by schools to improve their digital teaching and learning?
Curtin said the most important impact humanoid robotics are having on digital teaching and learning is that it makes the subject fun and engaging.
“We are observing a very high rate of student engagement in both boys and girls,” he said.
“The students relate to P!nk in a different way then they relate to an iPad or a computer, she corresponds to them, she’s human like in that sense and it’s interesting to see the fondness and attachment they develop towards her.
“If you’re looking to teach quality digital technology, the technology has to allow you to do something you can’t do without it. Unlink coding programs or apps, students can immediately test their programs on P!nk and get that immediate feedback in an exciting way.”
And while NAO robots aren’t cheap, Curtin said schools could easily share one NAO robot between them on a rotating basis and still get great benefit. 
“One part of this project that I am proud of is the commitment AISSA has for making this technology available to all schools, so that there is equality of access to cutting edge digital technology,” he said.
“School systems could purchase one or two robots for their schools to share for 1 or 2 terms at a time, I think this would be the best model.”