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Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Robot lecture for enhancing presentation in lecture” by Ishino, T.; Goto, M. y Kashihara, A. (2022), in which authors carry out an experiment to know whether the use of robots with specialized skills in nonverbal communication is positive and beneficial for the learning process of students in class.

For some years now, the use of robots, especially small ones, has been spreading in various contexts such as care, nursing, education, guidance, hospitality… and moreover, people’s interest in implementing robots in some of these areas is growing exponentially, especially in education. 

In this article, authors focus on the use of communication robots to give lectures or short lessons in small classes. 

In a lecture, it is generally very important to present the contents with slides to support the oral presentation, so that a better and easier understanding by the students is achieved. This requires teachers to control the students’ attention, both to the slides and to the oral presentation, and this must be done by means of many non-verbal elements: the eyes, gestures, paralanguage, etcetera. 

For example, if teachers want to draw students’ attention to an important point on a particular slide, they should turn their face towards the presentation and point with a direct gesture simultaneously

On the other hand, nonverbal behavior that is histrionic, excessive, unnecessary, would prevent students from keeping their attention on understanding the content. Consequently, it is essential for teachers or lecture speakers to have some training in nonverbal communication. 

However, even for experienced communicators, it is not so easy to make proper use of the learned tools of nonverbal communication and maintain it throughout the lecture. And if we bear in mind that there are also inexperienced people who do not know the effective techniques in this type of situation, the matter becomes more complex. 

Those with less experience tend to concentrate more on oral explanation and leave aside non-verbal communication. As a result, the learning process for students will be more difficult. 

The authors propose the use of robots to give lectures, replacing human teachers. The aim in the experiment was to reproduce nonverbal behavior as adequate as possible for the students to pay attention to the most important contents of the lecture. 

The robot reproduced the presentation that was part of the supporting material of the lecture or class, and directed its face and gestures accordingly. 

The study compares the effectiveness of human-delivered and robot-delivered lectures in terms of student learning. 

The participants were 36 university students. Three different video lectures lasting 5-6 minutes were prepared. 

The obtained results reported that the robots had difficulties in performing accurate speaker behavior, due to their obvious limitations (they are not human beings), but their behavior was recognizable. 

In the case of a pointing gesture, performed by human teachers, it is required to point to precise locations. If it is imprecise, it can lead to confusion on the part of the students, and they will lose attention. The pointing gesture by a robot tends to be firmer, so students would pay immediate attention in the direction pointed. 

However, to make up for the possible shortcomings of robots in terms of gestures, the authors propose using laser pointers or visual effects on the slides.

As a point that also needs to be improved, the authors mention that the robot needs to recognize the learning and behavioral states in the classroom on the part of the students. For example, if there are people who feel that the lecture is difficult, the robot will have to present a different nonverbal behavior that helps to change this perception. 

The results are positive in terms of attention when it comes to lectures given by the robot, possibly because of the novelty factor, although it is also mentioned that they are short lectures and this can be a point in favor. For this reason, the authors propose the use of hybrid models where robots make the introductions to certain topics and human teachers explain the complex parts or those that require a less “technological” factor. 

In the future, authors intend to learn more about the applications of robots in the field of education. In the meantime, they invite other researchers to investigate the subject, in order to include more and more of this type of technology in our lives. 

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it influences our personal relationships, visit our Nonverbal Communication Certificate, a 100% online program certificated by the Heritage University (Washington) with special discounts for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog.

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