By teaching a robot how to write letters, children can improve their own handwriting skills and gain better self-confidence, according to researchers. Matthew Stock reports.
Eight-year-old Leon is teaching this robot how to improve its handwriting. He presents a word spelled out in plastic letters, with the robot recognising the word and writing it out. Leon then identifies and corrects the robot's errors -- and in the process practices his own handwriting skills. The prototype system, called CoWriter, uses a complex writing algorithm that includes a vast database of handwriting examples. These allow the robot to clumsily draw words on demand, and then gradually improve as it 'learns' from the child's teaching. Study co-author Séverin Lemaignan says the robot peer could be a useful tool for teachers to help struggling students. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SÉVERIN LEMAIGNAN (pron. Sev-rin La-menion), EPFL RESEARCHER AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE STUDY, SAYING: "The idea here is to introduce a new role for the robot; the robot is the worst writer in the classroom. And for children who did face difficulties and were before the worst students, there's now one who is even worse than them." Studies have shown that children who have difficulty writing can lose confidence and even withdraw from the learning process. But this learning by teaching paradigm could engage unmotivated students, as well as boost their self-confidence. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SÉVERIN LEMAIGNAN (pron. Sev-rin La-menion), EPFL RESEARCHER AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE STUDY, SAYING: "The robot is facing difficulties to write. So the child as a teacher tends to commit itself to help the robot. And this is what we call in psychology 'the protégé effect'; it [the child] will try to protect this robot and help him to progress." Further studies aimed at proving the system's benefits are planned. Researchers are confident that by turning struggling pupils into teachers, they'll make writing child's play.