Project Synthesis partnered with Latitude Research and the LEGO Learning Institute in 2011 to under take a project that explored children’s expectations and understanding of how they wanted technology to shape and be a part of their learning environment. The project report for Robots @ School has just been launched.
The Robots@School Project was a narrative-driven research exercise that involved asking children across the world to write and illustrate a short story answering this question: “What if robots were a part of your everyday life – at school and beyond?” The goal of the study was to provide educators, entrepreneurs, technologists, and interactive content creators with insights about the close, often overlapping, relationship between learning and play for today’s children, to identify common frustrations in the learning process, and to suggest possible solutions – both high- and low- tech.
The project offers a range of insights that are less about robots and more about understanding the ways children learn, how they interact and expect to interact with technology and what they value and appreciate in school and learning environments. Through the analysis three key insights developed. They were:
Smart = Social, Machines Tell Us
Nearly 2/3 of kids took for granted that robots could make excellent human friends in spite of their machine intelligence. In most cases, kids conceived of their fictional robots as humanoid peers that they could identify with and aspire to be like. Moreover, children imagined robots that were considered popular and socially successful by their human peers precisely because they’re smart; in other words, being perceived as a “nerd” actually creates, not detracts from, social opportunities – giving children a solid motivation to learn. This is, no doubt, also true in the real world (sans robots) for today’s digital natives – robots simply helped to illuminate what many kids already value in social scenarios.
Robots Free Us to Learn and Create in New Ways
Kids imagined robots that were, essentially, better versions of our teachers and parents, offering limitless time and patience, encouraging confidence and self-direction, and allowing us to make mistakes sans self-consciousness. The majority of kids’ robots (75%) acted patient and supportive in educational contexts. Kids also saw robots as figures that could inspire them to take more creative risks: emotionally, without the risk of becoming a social outlier, and practically, by taking on boring tasks so they could be freed up for higher-level pursuits (which 25% of kids explicitly conveyed in their stories).
Let’s Close the Divide Between Learning and Play
While one might expect kids to create more stories about play than learning, an equal number (38%) focused on each of these themes. In fact, kids didn’t make much distinction between the roles of “playmate” and “study buddy” when describing their robots; they tended to view learning and play as related, often overlapping, pursuits, moving fluidly between the two – even if their lives appear much more compartmentalized in practice.
Robots @ School demonstrates the importance of respecting and engaging with the ideas and expectations of children. This study gives us an early insight into the world they want to create, how they expect technology to interface with their lives and their positive aspirations for the future. This is a project that further asserts our need to listen and respect children’s perspectives, support them as self-directed learners and give scope for them to image, play and build their own world for the 21st Century.
Robots @ School study findings are now available:
A complete PDF study summary is available for download at http://bit.ly/robotstudy
You can read the project lead, Latitude’s blog post discussing the findings of Robots @ School:
We also have a great Flickr gallery of the images of robots that children created as part of their storytelling and the research process(cc-licensed):