A conference held last month, called the Australian Conference for Computers in Education, unveiled research into the impact of humanoid robots on students’ computational thinking.
The aim of the study was to understand the impact of humanoid NAO robots on student learning, the integration of the robots into the curriculum and the pedagogical approaches that enhance and extend student learning.
NAO robots, developed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French robotics company, have been used for research and education purposes in schools and universities worldwide. As of 2015, over 5,000 NAO robots are in use in over 50 countries.
One of these robots, called ‘Pink’, is part of a collaborative research project between the University of Queensland, the Queensland University of Technology, Swinburne University in Melbourne and the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA).
The students and teachers at Maitland Lutheran School have been using Pink to embed the language of the traditional owners of the land – the Narungga people, into the school’s new Digital Technologies subject. About 23% of the school’s students are Aboriginal.
Project reveals promising results
AISSA educational consultant, Monica Williams, told The Educator that the project is exploring how a ‘sleeping’ language of one of the peoples of the oldest living culture in the world can be bolstered using innovative technology.
“At the moment, there is only one fluent speaker of the language in the world – Tania Wanganeen. She learnt Narungga based on records that were left by the German missionaries who worked in that area. Now, students are programming the robots to speak the language,” she explained.
“So what we wanted to do at Maitland Lutheran School was to embed the Australian Curriculum cross-curricular priority of Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander history and cultures and give a greater sense of pride to the Aboriginal students about their Aboriginal identity.”
There are three teachers involved in this project who have partnered with Wanganeen to help educate the both teachers and students about the Narungga language and culture.
“The school thought that by embedding a language from the oldest living culture in the world and cutting-edge technology, that this would be a really interesting way to see how Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander histories and cultures can be given a higher profile in school,” Williams said.
“It’s also showing that we are really only limited by our imagination into ways we can embed Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander history and cultures into teaching and learning. The robots are also giving students a remarkable opportunity to engage with the new Digital Technologies curriculum.”
Williams pointed out that there has been very high engagement as a result of this project.
“Students have been really excited by this, and the Aboriginal students have felt more proud of their culture and heritage because it’s being valued and taught to everybody in the school,” she said.
“The fact that the teachers are learning this language too makes an incredible difference when people think that aspects of your culture are so important that they want to learn it.”
Inspiring educators to get creative
Williams said research shows that students engage most effectively in their learning when their culture, history and perspectives are being acknowledged and seen as valuable.
“This is particularly true for our nation’s First Peoples, so there is much more that we need to do as educators to embed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in the learning areas and to explore what is possible,” she said.
“What I find most exciting about this project is that you would find many people saying ‘there is not a natural connection between Aboriginal histories and culture and the Digital Technologies curriculum, and yet, this works together perfectly.”
Williams added that the project is about educators being creative and thinking about ways to “deepen students’ thinking and learning in both the cross-curricular priorities and the areas of the curriculum that are really valuable”.
“There is rigour and authenticity in it. This project has rigour and authenticity from the Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander perspective, but it also has real rigour and authenticity in what students are doing in the digital technologies space,” she said.
‘A highly engaging and fun platform’
This year, The Brainary – an international distributor of cutting-edge learning technologies – ran a complimentary workshop series where they organised visits schools all around Australia, delivering robotics workshops with NAO.
“Several years ago, we saw NAO robots being used in the US. Knowing that coding and robotics would become part of the curriculum, we saw NAO as a highly engaging, and fun platform, which could bring coding alive for students,” The Brainary’s director, Hugh Kingsley, told The Educator.
“We even have NAO being utilised to help children and adults with their rehabilitation in both the Royal Children’s Hospital – Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital.”
Kingsley added that based on the programs’ success this year, The Brainary will be sure to continue the program in 2017.
“We’ve also recently created a new curriculum companion for NAO that makes it easy for teachers to map exercises with NAO to the new Digital technologies curriculum.”