Griffith researchers close to understanding benefits of interactive social robots for ECEC

Griffith researchers close to understanding benefits of interactive social robots for ECEC

by Freya Lucas

July 22, 2021

Researchers from Griffith University are close to understanding the benefits interactive social robots can offer early childhood educators in the classroom after time spent undertaking a behavioural study in childcare centres to observe how young children interact with ‘NAO’ the humanoid robot created by SoftBank Robotics.


Led by Dr Michelle Neumann, who was named in The Australian 2020 research list as a leader in early childhood education research, the researchers project stems from a literature review published in the Early Childhood Education Journal which found very few studies on the effects of social robots on early literacy learning.


Dr Neumann believes social robots like NAO could play a significant role in teaching children social and emotional skills, with robots using interactive sensors to make them more expressive, capable of social interaction and intelligent communication with young children.


“Our early data shows children responding positively to the robot and being excited by its presence,” she added.


The social features, interacting using speech, movement and facial expressions to communicate, are important for literacy and language learning, particularly if the social robot is programmed to follow the rules of language and social norms, Dr Neumann said.


Having developed her own digital apps including one which assesses emergent literacy skills, she is aware of the benefits and challenges technology can bring.


“It will be important to research what effects time spent interacting with a social robot has on young children’s literacy and language acquisition and social-emotional development. Teachers will also need professional development training on how to operate and use social robots to support teaching and learning processes.”


The initial and ongoing costs of this new technology could also widen the digital gap for disadvantaged communities.


“Evidence-based research on what new technology tools offer is essential to making informed decisions on how they can be used to support literacy and language development.”


Results of the study will be released at the end of the year and will be made available on the university website