EXP: Transforming World Language Education using Social Robotics

PI: William Johnson, Kino Coursey
Award Details

This Cyberlearning Exploration Project explores the potential for social robotics to transform foreign-language learning. The social robot being developed in this project is designed to act as a language partner for students learning a foreign language, in this case those learning Chinese. It augments classroom instruction, providing for the learner a robot companion to converse with. The hypothesis is that social robots can make interactions with language speakers more exciting and more accessible, especially for less commonly taught languages. The embodied robot is designed not only to converse with learners but also to point and nod and gesture at particular people and objects, helping to direct the attention of learners and interact socially with learners in ways that a non-embodied simulation cannot. The PIs take a task-based approach to language learning, helping students learn the language that goes with a variety of real-world situations. The technological innovation is a synthesis of social robots and social simulation; classroom language instruction is augmented by robot interaction. In this Exploration project, robots are being used in classrooms; as the price of such robots decrease, such robots could become available for after-school, library, cafeteria, or even home or public use.

This project brings together a leading developer of simulation-based learning solutions for intercultural communication (Alelo, Inc.) with a leading developer of lifelike intelligent robots (Hanson Robokind) to create a prototype social robot for language learners (in this case those learning Chinese) and to investigate the roles such robots might play in language learning and the most effective ways of interacting with learners so as to sustain their engagement in foreign-language conversation. The project meets a critical need in this country for a workforce that can engage well in the international marketplace. The particular focus in this project is on Mandarin Chinese language and culture, but what is learned will be applicable to other foreign languages as well.

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