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Advances in the field of robotics in recent years have enabled the deployment of robots in a multitude of settings, and it is predicted that this will continue to increase, leading to a profound impact on society in the future. This thesis takes its starting point in educational robots; specifically, the kind of robots that are designed to interact socially with children. Such robots are often modeled on humans and made to express and/or perceive emotions, for the purpose of creating some social or emotional attachment in children. This thesis presents a research effort in which an empathic robotic tutor was developed and studied in a school setting, focusing on children’s interactions with the robot over time and across different educational scenarios. With support from the Responsible Research and Innovation Framework, this thesis furthermore sheds light on ethical dilemmas and the social desirability of implementing robots in future classrooms, seen from the eyes of teachers and students. The thesis concludes that children willingly follow instructions from a robotic tutor, and they may also develop a sense of connection with robots, treating them as social actors. However, children’s interactions with robots often break down in unconstrained classroom settings when expectations go unmet, making the potential gain of robots in education questionable. From an ethical perspective, there are many open questions regarding stakeholders’ concerns on matters of privacy, roles, and responsibility, as well as unintended consequences. These issues need to be dealt with when attempting to implement autonomous robots in education on a larger scale.


child–robot interaction, education, robotics, ethics, responsible research and innovation, stakeholders


Advances in the field of robotics in recent years have enabled the deployment of robots in a multitude of settings, ranging from industry, space exploration, and military, to elder care (Gallagher, Nåden, & Karterud, 2016), domestic life (Frennert, 2016), and education (Benitti, 2012; Mubin, Stevens, Shahid, Mahmud, & Dong, 2013). Between the years of 2014 and 2015, robot sales increased by 25% in areas of professional service, and 16% for personal service (i.e., robots for entertainment, assistance, or domestic tasks), indicating a rising trend (IFR International Federation of Robotics, 2016). IFR predicts that approximately 3 million robots will be sold for educational and research purposes between the years 2016 and 2019. These developments are thought to lead to a profound impact on society, where robots “eventually pervade all areas of activity, from education and healthcare to environmental monitoring and medicine. The broad spread of the future impact of robotics technology should not be underestimated” (euRobotics, 2013, p. 27).

My work for this thesis takes its starting point in educational robots; specifically, the kind of robots that are designed to interact socially with children. Such robots can take different forms and functions and are often designed with specific capabilities for one or more delimited tasks. They are typically made to appear either animal- (zoomorphic) or human-like (humanoid), which is a design choice that capitalizes on the human tendency to attribute human emotional and cognitive characteristics to inanimate objects or animals, and subsequently respond as though such objects act in a rational human manner (also known as anthropomorphism1 ) (Duffy, 2003). Such robots may interact with children orally or physically. They can be made to behave, produce gestures, or move about in a certain manner to resemble animals or humans (Duffy, 2003), and they are sometimes made to exhibit and/or express artificial emotions for the purpose of creating some social or emotional attachment in people (Fong, Nourbakhsh, & Dautenhahn, 2003). As my research was carried out as part of the EU-funded research and development project EMOTE (short for Embodied perceptive tutors for empathy-based learning), working on the design and evaluation of educational robots, I focus on the kind of robot studied there, namely humanoid (empathic) robotic tutors.

While robotic tutors mainly feature in research currently, it is likely that they will eventually move out of the research laboratories and into actual classrooms. Indeed, the EMOTE project, which I was a part of, is only one of several EU-funded projects that study robotic tutoring; among others are EASEL2 and L2TOR3. In the US, research initiatives have been carried out by, e.g., different researchers in the Personal Robots Group4 at MIT Media Lab (cf. Gordon et al., 2016; Leyzberg, Spaulding, & Scassellati, 2014). In Asia, robots have a somewhat longer tradition (Kanda, Hirano, Eaton, & Ishiguro, 2004), where so-called robot-based learning systems have already been implemented in Korean classrooms (KIST).

A robotic tutor is not a technology that children are supposed to interact with others through, like a mobile phone, but a technology that they are supposed to interact with (Höflich, 2013; van Oost & Reed, 2011; Zhao, 2006). Thus, it is important to study how children interact with this new technology, and what happens when robotic tutors are implemented in education. Such studies cannot be limited to short-term studies, due to possible novelty effects, i.e., “the first responses to technology, not the patterns of usage that will persist over time as the product ceases to be new” (Sung, Christensen, & Grinter, 2009). However, research in this area is relatively limited as of yet; only a few studies have been carried out using social robots in actual schools (c.f. Gordon et al., 2016; Kanda, Sato, Saiwaki, & Ishiguro, 2007; Kory Westlund et al., 2016; Tanaka & Matsuzoe, 2012). This can partly be explained by the difficulties inherent in conducting long-term studies with robots in naturalistic environments (Ros et al., 2011) since such studies require much work and preparation developing the robot’s interactive capabilities, as well as the tasks that the robot is supposed to carry out. Notwithstanding, interactions with robots are highly influenced by the social context in which they take place (Šabanović, 2010; Severinson-Eklundh, Green, & Hüttenrauch, 2003), which means that laboratory studies likely only partly reflect how children would interact with robots in natural school settings.

Furthermore, when new technologies are brought into education, this affects not only how children interact and learn, but also the educational environment as a whole (Levine, 1999). While robotic tutors are thought to present a number of possibilities, such as to personalize education to individual students’ needs (Leyzberg et al., 2014), support learning (Kory Westlund et al., 2017), and alleviate teachers’ workload (Movellan, Tanaka, Fortenberry, & Aisaka, 2005), they may (like any technology) also bring about limitations and unintended consequences (Cuban, 2003; Selwyn, 2016), and thus, be met with public resistance. As indicated by a European survey conducted in 2012, the general public is concerned about the educational use of robots, where 34% responded that robots should be banned from education altogether (European Commission, 2012). In recent years, it has been emphasized that researchers need to be vigilant concerning technological innovations, and how they are designed and implemented in various social practices. There may, e.g., be ethical issues that need to be addressed (Sharkey & Sharkey, 2011; Sharkey, 2016). In essence, the design and development of robots should be guided not only by what is possible to accomplish with technology, but also informed by the needs and visions of the people who are affected by them (Taipale, Vincent, Sapio, Lugano, & Fortunati, 2015). To do so, stakeholders need to be involved in determining the social desirability (Eden, Jirotka, & Stahl, 2013), and possible applications for future innovations (Schomberg, 2007). Do stakeholders want robotic tutors to be implemented in education? And if so, how and why (not)?

Research aims

This thesis is about exploring an up-and-coming technology aimed for education. My research relates to the field of study known as Child–Robot Interaction (CRI), where I focus my efforts towards two objects of study. The first objective is about exploring how children interact with a humanoid robot in a tutoring role, performing a variety of activities with them, in their actual school setting, over time. Here, it is important to point out that this does not imply that I focus on learning and/or learning effects per se. Rather, I am concerned with possible preconditions for the educational use of robots in specific roles within the educational context. The second objective is about looking ahead towards future possible applications of robotic tutors, and exploring how a selection of educational stakeholders (teachers and students) view these possibilities from a normative and ethical perspective. My goal is to bring these two aspects of CRI together into a guiding discussion on the current and future implications facing the educational use of robots in social roles. The following research questions thus guide this work:

RQ 1. How do children interact with a humanoid robotic tutor in a school setting, and what implications does this pose for the educational use of robots?

RQ 2. How do teachers and students view the possible implementation of robots in future classrooms in relation to educational practices and ethical tensions?

First, taking the humanoid robot featured in the EMOTE project as a starting point, I take a critical look at children’s interactions with robots in authentic school settings. Specifically, three studies are conducted: the first explores how children respond to tedious instructions conveyed by the robot, the second explores how children respond to the robot’s attempts at social interaction, and the third focuses on when interactions between children and the robot break down.

Second, I seek to explore the anticipated effects and social desirability of educational robots by turning to stakeholders in education, namely teachers and students. To do so, I draw on the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) framework, which is concerned with engaging stakeholders in ethical deliberations, assessments of social desirability and unintended consequences of future innovations in a given field (Eden et al., 2013; Owen, Bessant, & Heintz, 2013; Schomberg, 2007). Here, three studies are conducted as well. The first study focuses on teachers’ needs and expectations for educational robots, the second examines students’ normative perspectives on what robots should and should not be able to do in education, and the third explores practicing and training teachers’ deliberations on the ethical tensions associated with having robots in future classrooms.

Thesis disposition

This thesis comprises eight chapters and six appended papers. In the first chapter, the area of research is introduced, and the research aims are specified. Chapter 2 describes in more detail what robots are, discusses various features of robots, and provides a background to different applications for robots in education. In Chapter 3, previous research related to the research questions is presented, along with considered research perspectives. Chapter 4 provides a description of the EMOTE project in which the research was conducted, as well as a description of the designed tasks and the robot employed in the studies. Chapter 5 describes the methods used to address the research questions, while Chapter 6 presents the main results of the six research studies. The research findings are then discussed in Chapter 7, along with considerations on methodology and future work in this field. Finally, conclusions are presented in Chapter 8.


When novel technologies are implemented in education, this affects the social and practical environment in the classroom as a whole. When robots are introduced, children are faced with a technology that interacts with them in a social way, and that they can respond to in kind, if they choose. At the beginning of this thesis, I set out to offer a guiding discussion on the current and future implications facing the educational use of robots in social roles. This has been explored through the following two research questions: How do children interact with a humanoid robotic tutor in a school setting, and what implications does this pose for the educational use of robots, and, How do teachers and students view the possible implementation of robots in future classrooms in relation to educational practices and ethical tensions?

By studying children’s interactions with a robotic tutor in a school setting over time, the thesis finds that there are complex issues at play in these types of interactions. Taking Selwyn’s (2008) argument regarding the state of the actual seriously, it is clear that robotic tutors might be innovations of the future, rather than the present. There are a number of challenges of a purely technical nature, such as robots lacking the necessary perceptive capabilities to interact in a socially acceptable manner or really help students with their learning tasks in a meaningful way, that limit their feasibility. Nevertheless, the future may have something entirely different in store in terms of technical capacity, making the presence of such social robots a question about desirability rather than a possibility. In turn, ethical questions have been addressed regarding whether this shift in interaction is a development that we want to see amplified in education, seen from the eyes of teachers and students. Here, the thesis identifies ethical issues associated with privacy, what sorts of autonomous decisions robots can actually make, and other aspects that make educational robots a delicate matter. Taken together, these contributions offer some new perspectives on Child–Robot Interaction—what we could do with robots in education—and what we should.

About KSRA

The Kavian Scientific Research Association (KSRA) is a non-profit research organization to provide research / educational services in December 2013. The members of the community had formed a virtual group on the Viber social network. The core of the Kavian Scientific Association was formed with these members as founders. These individuals, led by Professor Siavosh Kaviani, decided to launch a scientific / research association with an emphasis on education.

KSRA research association, as a non-profit research firm, is committed to providing research services in the field of knowledge. The main beneficiaries of this association are public or private knowledge-based companies, students, researchers, researchers, professors, universities, and industrial and semi-industrial centers around the world.

Our main services Based on Education for all Spectrum people in the world. We want to make an integration between researches and educations. We believe education is the main right of Human beings. So our services should be concentrated on inclusive education.

The KSRA team partners with local under-served communities around the world to improve the access to and quality of knowledge based on education, amplify and augment learning programs where they exist, and create new opportunities for e-learning where traditional education systems are lacking or non-existent.

FULL Paper PDF file:

Child–Robot Interaction in Education



Sofia Serholt Department of Applied Information Technology University of Gothenburg Göteborg, Sweden




Child–Robot Interaction in Education

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ISBN 978-91-88245-00-7 URL Printed in Gothenburg, Sweden 2017 Kompendiet


PDF reference and original file: Click here



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Nasim Gazerani was born in 1983 in Arak. She holds a Master's degree in Software Engineering from UM University of Malaysia.

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Professor Siavosh Kaviani was born in 1961 in Tehran. He had a professorship. He holds a Ph.D. in Software Engineering from the QL University of Software Development Methodology and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chelsea.

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Somayeh Nosrati was born in 1982 in Tehran. She holds a Master's degree in artificial intelligence from Khatam University of Tehran.