SCI Faculty Receive National Science Foundation Award to Study How Robots Affect Learning

SCI faculty members recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Award to study the impact robots can have on middle school students’ learning.  The project, titled “Designing Effective Dialogue, Gaze, and Gesture Behaviors in a Social Robot that Supports Collaborative Learning in Middle School Mathematics,” will be led by SCI Associate Professor Erin Walker as Principal Investigator, with SCI Professor Diane Litman, SCI Assistant Professor Adriana I. Kovashka, and Pitt Department of Psychology Associate Professor Timothy Nokes-Malach serving as Co-Principal Investigators.  The award will investigate how a robot's nonverbal behaviors might complement what it says to students in order to prompt their thinking and develop their understanding.  The researchers will employ machine learning to determine which robot behaviors promote balanced interaction amongst the students and when and how to introduce mathematically relevant terminology and gestures.

"This is a really exciting opportunity to investigate how robots can use several different mechanisms of communication in parallel (dialogue, gesture, gaze) to support the learning of collaborating students,” Walker said. “As part of our project, we are excited to explore how the robot can use reinforcement learning to figure out by itself how best to interact with the students. We hope to ultimately identify some use cases where social robots, because they are physically present, facilitate learning more effectively than virtual agents who behave in a similar way."

Please join us in congratulating the research team on this exciting endeavor!

Learn more about the NSF Award.