Are Reading Robots the Future of Literacy for Kids?


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Convincing reluctant readers that story time can be fun is challenging, but it can be a lot easier when you have robots to help. A new study highlights the benefits of robots teaching kids how to read.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a robot named Minnie to help kids learn how to read. The study—which introduced Minnie to middle school students as a reading buddy—made kids much more enthusiastic about reading over a two-week period.

photo: StockSnap via Pixabay

“After one interaction, the kids were generally telling us that, sure, it was nice to have someone to read with,” says Joseph Michaelis, a UW-Madison graduate student studying educational psychology. “But by the end of two weeks, they’re talking about how the robot was funny and silly and afraid, and how they’d come home looking forward to seeing it again.”

According to Science Daily, previous research has shown that kids learn better with buddies. Social learning, which pairs students together to read or complete assignments, has been proven to improve academic skills and boost students’ interest in learning. As Michaelis explains, many students think of reading as an isolating activity which can make them lose interest and make it harder for some students to learn.

For the study, the students spent two weeks reading out loud to Minnie from a selection of 25 different books. Minnie would track the students progress and respond to their reading and the plot of the story with hundreds of pre-recorded comments. Minnie was also able to recommend books to the kids based on an algorithm. Over the course of the study the kids’ motivation to read increased significantly and most reported that they understood and remembered more about the reading.

Photo: Rawpixel via Unsplash

“This idea is in its infancy. But now we know if you really, carefully design this, it can actually sustain interaction and heighten kids’ emotional experience with reading,” study co-author Bilge Mutlu says. “That’s a huge achievement.”

—Shahrzad Warkentin



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