Educators' Views on Using Humanoid Robots With Autistic Learners in Special Education Settings in England

Alyssa M. Alcorn*, Eloise Ainger, Vicky Charisi, Stefania Mantinioti, Suncica Petrovic, Bob R. Schadenberg, Teresa Tavassoli, Elizabeth Pellicano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Researchers, industry, and practitioners are increasingly interested in the potential of social robots in education for learners on the autism spectrum. In this study, we conducted semi-structured interviews and focus groups with educators in England to gain their perspectives on the potential use of humanoid robots with autistic pupils, eliciting ideas, and specific examples of potential use. Understanding educator views is essential, because they are key decision-makers for the adoption of robots and would directly facilitate future use with pupils. Educators were provided with several example images (e.g., NAO, KASPAR, Milo), but did not directly interact with robots or receive information on current technical capabilities. The goal was for educators to respond to the general concept of humanoid robots as an educational tool, rather than to focus on the existing uses or behaviour of a particular robot. Thirty-one autism education staff participated, representing a range of special education settings and age groups as well as multiple professional roles (e.g., teachers, teaching assistants, speech, and language therapists). Thematic analysis of the interview transcripts identified four themes: Engagingness of robots, Predictability and consistency, Roles of robots in autism education, and Need for children to interact with people, not robots. Although almost all interviewees were receptive toward using humanoid robots in the classroom, they were not uncritically approving. Rather, they perceived future robot use as likely posing a series of complex cost-benefit trade-offs over time. For example, they felt that a highly motivating, predictable social robot might increase children’s readiness to learn in the classroom, but it could also prevent children from engaging fully with other people or activities. Educator views also assumed that skills learned with a robot would generalise, and that robots’ predictability is beneficial for autistic children—claims that need further supporting evidence. These interview results offer many points of guidance to the HRI research community about how humanoid robots could meet the specific needs of autistic learners, as well as identifying issues that will need to be resolved for robots to be both acceptable and successfully deployed in special education contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalFrontiers in robotics and AI
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • Education
  • Special education
  • Schools
  • Teachers
  • Autism
  • Children
  • Humanoid Robots
  • Social robots

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