ISSN 2150-5128

University of Delaware Research Online Magazine

ONLINE MAGAZINE VOL 8 • NO 2

University of Delaware Research Online Magazine

ONLINE MAGAZINE

UD ROBOTICS

Creative approaches to teaching tough topics

Just because children have grown up with internet-enabled devices and interactive technologies like Siri, Google and Alexa, does not mean that children are adept at understanding how to be safe online.

That is why University of Delaware researchers are leveraging an emerging technology known as social robots to test news ways to deliver cybersecurity training in the classroom. Pre-pandemic photo by Evan Krape

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Researchers leverage social robots to teach children cybersecurity

Gone are the days of looking something up in an encyclopedia or, worse (gasp!), via a library’s Dewey decimal system. No more do children sit at the family computer to access the internet.

Instead, children of all ages walk around with portable computers, mobile phones, iPods and other connected technology. Parents might even call these electronic devices their child’s “handheld life jacket.”

Just because children have grown up with internet-enabled devices and interactive technologies like Siri, Google and Alexa, however, does not mean that children are adept at understanding how to be safe online.

That is why University of Delaware researchers are leveraging an emerging technology known as social robots to test new ways to deliver cybersecurity training in the classroom.

The National Science Foundation-funded work is designed to complement, rather than replace, teacher instruction. The project is a collaborative effort by Chrystalla Mouza, Distinguished Professor in Teacher Education, and Tia Barnes, assistant professor of human development, in UD’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD); and Chien-Chung Shen, professor of computer and information sciences in the College of Engineering.

The project leverages Zenbo, an off-the-shelf social robot, to deliver cybersecurity lessons by reading children familiar stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood, that have been creatively adapted for the digital age by the UD research team. As Zenbo reads the preprogrammed stories, the robot pauses periodically to solicit the children’s input about what Red Riding Hood should do next.

“The checkpoints reinforce positive behaviors and create teachable moments for when children make mistakes,” said Mouza, an expert in using technology in the classroom.

Social Robots

ABOVE: University of Delaware researchers are leveraging an emerging technology known as social robots to test news ways to deliver cybersecurity training in the classroom. The NSF-funded project is a collaborative effort by Chrystalla Mouza, Distinguished Professor in Teacher Education, and Tia Barnes, assistant professor of human development, in UD’s College of Education and Human Development; and Chien-Chung Shen, professor of computer and information sciences in the College of Engineering. Pre-pandemic photo by Evan Krape

Chrystalla Mouza

ABOUT CHRYSTALLA

Chrystalla Mouza is Distinguished Professor of Teacher Education and director of the School of Education at the University of Delaware. She earned an Ed.D., M.Ed, and M.A. in Instructional Technology and Media from Teachers College, Columbia University and completed post-doctoral work at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Specializing in educational technology, Mouza has expertise in the learning sciences including teacher learning, applications of technology in K-12 classrooms, and teaching and learning outcomes in ubiquitous and mobile computing environments.

Chien-Chung Shen

ABOUT CHIEN-CHUNG

Chien-Chung Shen is a professor of computer and information sciences in the College of Engineering. He has a background in wireless communications, particularly mobile and sensor networks. Shen earned his doctoral degree in computer science at University of California Los Angeles.

Tia Barnes

ABOUT TIA

Tia Barnes is an assistant professor of human development and family sciences in UD’s College of Education and Human Development. Her research focuses on social-emotional learning, culturally responsive pedagogy and special education. Barnes earned a Master of Education and a doctoral degree in special education from the University of Florida.

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Increasingly connected kids

Children ages 8 to 12 years old spend approximately six hours per day online, according to a 2015 Common Sense Media report. This number jumps to roughly nine hours daily after factoring in the amount of time students spend using technology in the classroom.

Mouza and Barnes took K-12 education standards related to computing and digital citizenship, including online safety, security and privacy, into account when developing the interactive stories. Digital citizenship focuses on online safety and the ethical and responsible use of the internet.

Shen and Yan-Ming Chiou, a computer science doctoral student with an interest in collaborative learning with interactive digital media, programmed the UD-developed stories, questions and responses into the social robot.

While the adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood focuses on the topic of phishing, Barnes also penned an original story called Captain Cyber that introduces friends James and Louisa who are inadvertently whisked into cyberspace while playing an online mobile game. There the children meet Captain Cyber, a cyber superhero who teaches them about identifying phishing sites and password safety.

The researchers envision the social robot as a part of a teacher’s overall strategy and lesson plan. Barnes hopes Zenbo can be leveraged to augment social emotional classroom instruction for children with disabilities. For example, a teacher might employ Zenbo to help children with autism or emotional learning difficulties practice social skills and explicitly experience social situations that they might encounter in real life.

Future iterations of the UD project could expand beyond social robots to include virtual reality (VR). This would enable children to not only learn from the stories, but to become characters within the virtual environment and role play the story using VR goggles, possibly even helping to teach their peers.

This work is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Fifth graders at The College School, located on UD’s Newark Campus, watch Zenbo the social robot, while doctoral student Yan-Ming Chiou guides the conversation and Prof. Tia Barnes looks on.

ABOVE: Fifth graders at The College School, located on UD’s Newark Campus, watch Zenbo the social robot, while doctoral student Yan-Ming Chiou guides the conversation and Laurie Drumm, TCS master teacher and technology coordinator, looks on. Pre-pandemic photo by Evan Krape

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