Læreprocesser og robotsystemer: Design af læremidler og læreprocesser med robotter som medier og børn som med-designere

Research output: ThesisPh.D. thesis

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Educational robotic tools have a large, untapped potential for motivating learning and making it more effective. This is because robot technology creates tools which are more vibrant, faceted, and physical in their user interaction than traditional paper or screen‐based media. The key to exploiting this potential lies primarily in developing an understanding of how robots can support the learning process.

The objective of this study is to improve existing strategies for the development of learning processes and educational tools using the medium of robotic systems. This dissertation therefore addresses the experimental development of educational robotic tools and discusses the learning processes that take place both during development and during the actual use of the tool. We gain an insight into development processes occuring when the target group of children participates actively in the design of specific educational robotic systems. A multi‐level structure for a design process for digital learning and teaching resources is also suggested.

The technology used is a modular robotic system, consisting of multiple embodied, intelligent and situated robot agents; their available actions; and their interaction with the environment (Brooks,1991; Pfeifer, 2006; Hallam, 2006). Being embodied intelligent means that the robot can interpret the environment using sensory input, for example light, sound or touch. Being situated means that it can relate specifically to time and space and give immediate feedback in the form of motion, light or sound.

My main research question is: How can learning processes be enriched by the experimental development of educational robotic systems? This includes the question of how to organize design processes in order to best exploit the inherent potential of this technology for the benefit of the target group.

Learning processes are designed and evaluated based on the understanding of learning as a social practice where the learner is an active participator, co‐creator and critic (Wenger, 2004; Bateson, 2000; Schön, 2001). This social, active interaction, with participation and reflection, is also the basis for being imaginative, creative and innovative (Scharmer, 2009; Nonaka, 1995).

Robotic systems are a new context for educational tools, where the learning process can be observed in the direct interaction between the learner and the tool, and where the robot is the medium around which this interaction takes place.

The research question is explored primarily in the light of two robot‐technological design cases where the children in the target group are active participants and co‐creators. The focus is on the design process and on how an iterative design approach can generate an educational tool which has well defined learning goals and flexible didactics. Two prototypes have been developed for primary schoolchildren within the field of mathematics:

a) Fraction Battle. This educational tool allows the learner to add and subtract simple fractions, see figure 1(a).
b) Number Blocks. This tool teaches about the place value system. The system supports the pronunciation of numbers in Danish, see figure 1(b). 

In order to treat the two cases uniformly, it is necessary to use a research method that can be adapted for different design cases. The method chosen also needed to support the inclusion of the target group as active participants and co‐creators. The research method chosen was a combination of Action Research and Design‐based Research named Design‐based Action Research. The method is iterative and based on interventions in each iteration where the target group, developers, and researcher perform an activity, e.g. brainstorming, or testing the educational tool (Lewin, 1946; Figueiredo, 2007; Barab & Squire, 2004; Sharp, 2007; van den Akker, 2006).

During the design and research process several points came to light regarding how learning processes are affected by the use of robotic tools. These points can be summarized as follows:

Points in relation to learning:

- Anchoring of academic knowledge in bodily experience. Userinteraction with the robots enables a more bodily experience e.g. the user senses the rhythm of the pronunciation of large numbers or the proportions of fractions. This experience is a form of tacit knowledge which anchors future learning.

-  Bodily experiences and conceptual knowledge. The bodily experience and the tacit knowledge acquired transforms into more explicit and conceptual knowledge through the didactic practice. Learning arises in the interplay between bodily experience and conceptual insight.

- Experimenting and exploring competences. In interacting with the robots, children learn to explore new topics and to combine different bodily, participative, and reflective approaches. In this way the children develop experimental and exploratory competences.

- Co‐creators. The children are involved in designing the didactics as well as the educational tool. This co‐creative role nourishes the learning process.

- Teachers, didactics, and educational robotic tools. The didactic has to be rethought when new technology is brought into the classroom, and it is important that educators take an active part in this process.
- Play, learning, and robotic systems. Robotic technology offers opportunities for playful interaction between children and educational tools, and this supports both exploratory and experimental learning processes.
- Learning through design. The technological design processes introduced new ways for the children to participate and this meant new ways of learning.
- Multiple forms of participation, diverse learning. Diverse forms of participation creates multiple ways of learning.

Overview over points in relation to robotic systems and design processes:

- Robotic educational tools make abstract concepts such as fractions concrete and tangible for the children.
- Modular robots are particularly suitable for use with flexible learning goals due to their adaptability. They are also suitable for design processes which involve users, since interacting with them is so appealing. The more complex and finalized a robot is, the less suited it is as a medium for educational design, because a more complex robot is more complicated to adapt to diverse learning goals and didactics.
- User involvement demonstrated the potential in the target group and in the technology, e.g. it was motivating and fun for the children to pronounce large numbers and that potential could be used in the didactics.
Original languageDanish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Southern Denmark
  • Jessen, Carsten, Principal supervisor
  • Gleerup, Jørgen, Co-supervisor
  • Hallam, John, Co-supervisor
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011

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