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Learning With Robots, One Brick At A Time

Learning With Robots, One Brick At A Time

Samuel remembers the day his nine-year-old youngster got here residence from faculty, excitedly on the lookout for robots to play with.

“He was climbing the cupboards looking for his robot toys and he has not stopped playing with them since. He keeps them beside him, playing with them – adjusting and turning the limbs and parts,” he stated.

Such a state of affairs might sound uneventful to most mother and father, however for Samuel whose baby has autism spectrum dysfunction (ASD), the response was a big one. And it started that day in class when a gaggle of Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) researchers introduced a couple of robots to his son’s faculty.

The robots, made with the Lego EV3 Mindstorm, had been specifically programmed to show youngsters with particular wants. “For my son and the other children this was something very new and children with ASD like to play and see something new,” added Samuel.

The robots are the function of Affiliate Professor Dr Noreen Izza Arshad’s ongoing analysis. In the previous few years, Noreen who’s a senior lecturer at UTP’s Constructive Computing Analysis Cluster on the Institute of Autonomous Techniques together with her group of 10 researchers together with Dr Ahmad Sobri Hashim and Dr Mazeyanti Ariffin have been delving into using robots as a educating help for youngsters with particular wants, particularly these with ASD.

The analysis started someday in 2015 when Noreen and Dr Norshuhani Zamin discovered that a lot of the particular faculties and establishments which might be devoted for autism are nonetheless utilizing the traditional technique of their educating supply. These embrace colored playing cards, footage, and sound devices to call a couple of.


Assoc Prof Dr Noreen Izza Arshad explaining the drawbacks of typical educating strategies to particular wants youngsters.

“That is the place issues come up as a result of the educating technique is just too monotonous. Youngsters have a brief consideration span, and it’s even worse for youngsters with ASD as a result of they’ve a tough time specializing in one factor at a time.

“These Lego robotics kits are attractive, with a powerful computational platform, and have been widely used in recent years for educational purposes. But often robots, computers, and tablets are not introduced to children with special needs and parents and teachers asked us why this was so. Even in schools, although there are robotics classes they are rarely open to children with special needs,” she added.

Delving deeper into using reprogrammable and multifunctional robots yielded encouraging insights into its use for youngsters with particular wants – with analysis pointing to toddlers contemplating robots as friends slightly than toys due to its versatile capability and options that look like extra interactive and interesting.

“Robots also appear to be more effective because of the interactive and engaging multisensory design features compared to a software or computer-mediated therapy,” she stated.

“There is also research that revealed that a child’s interest towards a robot naturally becomes the reason for their voluntary communication,” she stated, including that there’s a suggestion that as a result of the options of a robotic don’t resemble human beings, this not directly encourages these youngsters to speak.

She elaborated that research have additionally proven that a robotic’s look is seen as the primary focus that draws autistic youngsters and triggers their curiosity in the direction of the robotic, as was the case with Samuel’s son.

Equally, it’s believed that sound, music, vocal messages, color, visible cues in addition to actions are thought-about significant actions that may help in persuading a constructive angle.

Given these benefits, Noreen and her group visited a couple of faculties, specifically SK Coronation Park in Ipoh, SK Sultan Yussuf in Batu Gajah and SK Kampung Boyan in Taiping that cater to youngsters with particular wants.

“We discovered that the syllabus for children with special needs is different compared to those in the mainstream classes. We looked at the topics and subjects taught and selected those that can be delivered by robots. These include the teaching of numbers and Jawi, and the recognising of coins, body parts, animal sounds, shapes and the states of Malaysia,” she stated.

Say It Once more, Mr Robotic

Noreen’s analysis is funded by the Schooling Ministry underneath the Prototype Analysis Grant Scheme, which she acquired in 2015. With the RM110,000 grant, the group studied the present educating supply technique for the varied modules within the syllabus and labored on creating the robotic element.

Within the case of educating pupils to recognise the totally different coin values, for instance, the group developed a robotic construction that would calculate the circumference of every coin and determine it.

“So when the child puts the coin on the robot, it will read the coin and say the value out loud,” she defined. So far, the group has developed 10 robots that would ship numerous studying modules in enjoyable methods.

Apart from the abovementioned faculties, the group additionally visited the Nationwide Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom) Ipoh department and some autistic youngsters at their houses. Collectively, checks have been carried out amongst 30 autistic youngsters and the outcomes confirmed that the robotic intervention enhanced the training surroundings and will increase the youngsters’s understanding by 50%.

“Let’s say the teacher is teaching them about colours, with the previously used method, they can only attentively listen for five minutes. But with the Lego EV3 Mindstorm that we have programmed, they can stay focused for 20 minutes and interestingly they also started to talk, touch, take turns, volunteer, and seem to enjoy the learning,” stated Noreen.

Based on Noreen, suggestions from academics has been constructive. “Most teachers say there is a breakthrough in getting the children to focus. The robots hold the children’s attention longer compared to previous teaching aids. They used to get grumpy by the first hour but here they play with the robots for hours without throwing any tantrum,” she quipped.

Irwana Mohd Amin, who teaches Yr One and Yr Three youngsters with particular wants, believes that robots can have a constructive influence on youngsters with particular wants in addition to sluggish learners.

Cikgu Irwana (as she’s typically referred to as), a instructor at SK Coronation Park in Ipoh, recalled the events when Noreen and her workforce introduced the robots to the varsity.

“The children were all very excited because even though we do use teaching aids it’s usually flash cards or a laptop. It’s not as sophisticated as a robot,” she stated.

The robots have been examined in courses with sluggish learners and youngsters with delicate ASD aged between 9 and 11 years.

“The robot was programmed to teach the children about flags of the states of Malaysia. The robot was something very new to the children and we saw that they were more focused and found the whole session fun,” she added.

Irwana, who has a Grasp in Particular Schooling, reckons that the robots can be helpful for educating youngsters with particular wants. The setback, nevertheless, is the price, particularly for a public-funded faculty.

“If there were organisations that would sponsor the robots then we can put them to use to teach the children.”

Noreen concurs, including that a massive plus can be for the Schooling Ministry to put aside the funds for faculties to buy the robots for use as educating aids for youngsters with ASD.

Robots For All

Regardless of the encouragement acquired from academics and fogeys, it has not been bouquets all the best way for the analysis staff. There have been criticisms, as an example, that robots will render the youngsters extra uncommunicative.


Robotic-makers: Noreen and the staff of researchers on the Constructive Computing Cluster at UTP’s Institute of Autonomous Techniques.

“This is not the case. The robots are not there to eliminate communication. It is a tool to help create the engaging and immersive learning in fun ways that would indirectly welcome communication,” says Noreen.

Nonetheless, she concedes that there’s a concern that youngsters with ASD who might have already got issues speaking, will retreat additional away from individuals if they’ve a robotic.

“So we are still exploring ways where we can programme the robot to teach communication skills.”

The Lego EV3 Mindstorm was additionally launched to youngsters in mainstream courses. At the Kausar Excel Centre in Bandar Seri Iskandar for instance, the youngsters have been wanting to work together with the robotic.

“It was a good exposure to technology for the children because they were amazed at the inventiveness of the technology, and it also boosts their creativity and imagination,” stated Erni Yentti Amir, who’s the founding father of the training centre.

The plan going ahead, stated Noreen, is to publish educational guides on the right way to programme the robots to show the varied modules – for instance, numbers, colors or shapes. These are the guides or manuals that Noreen and her workforce developed from scratch based mostly on the educating syllabus for youngsters with particular wants.

“To date, there isn’t a guide in the market that is as comprehensive as ours. With this guide, all that the teacher or parent needs to do is build the robot using step-by-step instructions and programme the robot based on what is to be taught. Basically from switching on the robot to actually using it for teaching activities,” she added.

To that finish, UTP is in talks with Sasbadi Holdings Bhd – the schooling and answer supplier for Lego Schooling robotics merchandise in Malaysia – to get the guides onto bookshelves.

“My hope is to make the guides available to everyone. Eventually, I even hope to see these special kids using the guides and even programming the robots themselves,” stated Noreen.

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