F2-STEM2-3 - Developing a critical robot literacy for young people from conceptual metaphors analysis

3. Research Full Paper
Julie Henry1 , Fanny Boraita2, Anne-Sophie Collard1
1 NADI, University of Namur (Belgium)
2 IRDENA, University of Namur (Belgium)

This paper presents a reflective analysis of two robot literacy activities focused on children and teenagers. It aims to observe young people's representations of robots involved in educational activities and the issues raised by this education. These representations are analyzed through the conceptual metaphor theory (Lakoff & Jonhson, 1985). The metaphors used spontaneously by trainers and learners are enhanced by their speeches, their interactions with the robot and their manipulations of hardware and software. These conceptual metaphors reflect users' understanding of how the machine works and lead to expectations, frustrations, and risks when the metaphors hide aspects of the machine. (Tisseron, 2015). 


The research reported here provides useful elements for the establishment of critical robot literacy. This is a challenge regarding the need to develop the "digital literacy" of citizens by opening the "black box" (Villani, 2018). In education, robots are used to support learnings in different matters (Benitti, 2012; Gaudiello & Zibetti, 2013), to develop soft skills (Gaudiello & Zibetti, 2013; Romero, Richard & Kamga, 2016), to motivate learners (Benitti, 2012; Bazylev et al., 2014; Chin et al., 2014) or to enhance pedagogical innovation (Benitti, 2012). When robots are learning objects, it is often to educate technical aspects (Gaudiello & Zibetti, 2013).

The research takes shape through two robot literacy activities aimed at children and teenagers. The first activity involved the robots BeeBot, BlueBot, and Ozobot in seven classes of children from 3 to 10 years old. Through four sessions of 40 minutes each, 140 children discovered the components of a computer and programmed a robot. All the sessions were filmed. The second activity consisted of five half-days training for 13 participants from 8 to 15 years old. They designed, built and programmed a robot. Ethnographic observations by note-taking were carried out for four half-days. 

The analysis of videos and notes made it possible to identify three roles of metaphor: metaphor as teaser that attracts and creates a relational context (“we're gonna do a choir of robots”), metaphor that makes understand the machine (“the hard drive is like a cupboard with a lot of drawers”) and metaphor that materialize concepts and processes (“it's like a puzzle”). A metaphor can take more than one role. Moreover, a metaphor, whatever its role, can be classified as a living or non-living-object metaphor. A non-living-object metaphor is essentially used in understanding (“the RAM is like a bus”) and a living metaphor (“the robot is dancing”) raises ethical issues, inter alia. These results show that the metaphors used reflect representations of autonomous robots, as pets, with their own aims. This kind of representation hide aspects of the machine and human intentions.

A model of critical robotic literacy including technical, semiotic and social dimensions is developed. The use of metaphors should not be eliminated as they are fundamental cognitive processes. It is essential to deconstruct young people's representations of the machine. It can be achieved by analyzing robots as social constructions that reflect human intentions.