The concept of learning by teaching is a recognized successful technique. The idea is that kids develop greater interest and confidence in a subject when they take on the role of a teacher and instruct someone else.
Researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) presented their new teaching tool, called CoWriter, at the “Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI),” an important event in the field of interactive robotics, held in Portland, USA. The system, still in prototype phase, uses tablet computers and two foot tall friendly humanoid robots to help teach grade school students how to write. Instead of the robots instructing the kids, the kids instruct the robots who are programmed with progressive writing algorithms that mimic human learning. The goal is to teach the kids without them even knowing it. The robots’ writing is reproduced on a tablet computer, which the kids can then correct using a stylus. The robots draw from a vast database of handwriting samples that incorporate common errors for children in the specified learning range.
Instead of allowing a child to feel badly about themselves, the CoWriter robot learning system puts them in charge of their own education. The CoWriter robot is programmed with specific variables that will help the students figure out exactly what they are doing wrong without experiencing any negative feedback from their teacher. According to Séverin Lemaignan, one of the authors of the study, “The goal is to provide a tool for teachers that is given a new role in the classroom. That of a student who knows even less than the slowest student in the class.”
The CoWriter program has been tested in primary school classrooms with children from six to eight years old, and also in a separate trial with six-year old students getting weekly one hour teaching sessions. The long term objective is to provide an option for educators and parents to use the learning by teaching model with a robotic ‘student’ who gradually improves and more importantly, never gets tired.
Moreover, kids love robots and their positive interaction with CoWriter is likely to make them appreciate all types of technology. This is one of the reasons why the EPFL development team behind the CoWriter Project selected a robot to help them connect with children who are having difficulty learning how to write.