Development, Deployment and Evaluation of Personalized Learning Companion Robots for Early Literacy and Language Learning

Professors Alison Bailey, Ph.D.  & Abeer Alwan; Ph.D.
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies

UCLA the MIT Media Lab will be conducting a research and development initiative on the design and implementation of social robots for the teaching of reading and literacy skills for young children. Such robots are programmed to understand child input, provide evaluation information to teachers on their reading and literacy levels, and adapt response questions and teaching approaches to promote steady learning and improvement. [For a glimpse of the state-of-the-art Jibo robot we use see Time magazine:]

This new National Science Foundation-funded project aims to improve the ability for machines like Jibo to understand the speech of children so that they can inform educational applications in the crucial areas of oral language and early literacy instruction. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (2013), less than half of Kindergarten-aged children have access to the necessary resources to prepare them for the development of literacy skills. This lack of educational resources can be supplemented by educational robotics (desk-top child-appealing units). One of the most limiting factors to the development of such robots is the lack of reliable automatic speech recognition (ASR) technologies for young children. While ASR for adults has improved vastly in the past years, ASR for children still lags far behind due to the large variability in children’s acoustics and pronunciation, as well as a larger number of disfluencies in speaking.

EC 1 and II (pre-kindergarten and kindergarten) students will be asked to participate in this research in the iSTEAM Lab in short sessions (20-30 minutes) during which they will interact with Jibo and researchers to elicit speech and assess oral language and early literacy skills. The four-year project is iterative in order to enhance tasks with Jibo through machine speech learning. Children will participate in data collection annually over 2-3 years. We will also evaluate robot interactions with children and access the educational value of such robots in the final year of the study


Past Research based on Lab School Data


Rashmita S. Mistry, Lindsey Nenadal, Katherine M. Griffin, Frederick J. Zimmerman, Hasmik Avetisian Cochran, Carla-Anne Thomas and Christopher Wilson (2016), Children’s reasoning about Povertry, Economic Mobility, and Helping Behavior, Journal of Social Issues (Special Issue), 72(4),760-788


Bailey, A. L., Blackstock-Bernstein, A., & Heritage, M. (2015). At the intersection of mathematics and language: Examining mathematical strategies and explanations by grade and English learner status. The Journal of Mathematical Behavior. Advance online publication.

Gillen-O’Neel, C., Mistry, R. S., Brown, C. S., Rodriguez, V. C., White, E. S., & Chow, K. A. (2015). Not excluded from analyses: Racial meanings and identification among multiracial early adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 30, 143-179.

Mistry, R. S., Brown, C. S., White, E. S., Chow, K. A., & Gillen-O’Neel, C. (2015). Elementary school children’s reasoning about social class: A mixed-methods study. Child Development.

Rodriguez, V. C., Gillen-O’Neel, C., Mistry, R. S., & Brown, C. S. (2015). National and racial-ethnic identification: What it means to be American among early adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence. doi: 10.1177/0272431615589348

Sengupta-Irving, T and Enyedy, N. (2015). Why designing for mathematical practices may explain stronger outcomes in affect and engagement than designing for proficiency: Comparing open versus guided inquiry. Journal of the Learning Sciences.


Bailey, A.L. & Heritage, M. (2014). The role of language learning progressions in improved instruction and assessment of English language learners. TESOL Quarterly, 48(3), 480-506.

Danish, J. A., & Enyedy, N. (2014). Latour goes to kindergarten: Children marshaling allies in a spontaneous argument about what counts as science. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction.

Gluckman, M., Vlach, H. A., & Sandhofer, C. M. (2014). Spacing simultaneously promotes multiple forms of learning in children’s science curriculum.  Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28, 266-273. doi: 10.1002/acp.2997

Kafai, Y. B. & Fields, D. A. (2014). Connected play: Revealing the hidden lives of tweens online. Computers in Entertainment.

Sandoval, W. A. (2014). Conjecture mapping: An approach to systematic educational design research. Journal of the Learning Sciences.


Fields, D. A. & Enyedy, N. (2013). Picking up the mantle of “expert”: Assigned roles, assertion of identity, and peer recognition within a programming class. Mind, Culture, and Activity: An International Journal, 20(2), 113-131.

House, B., Silk, J. B., Henrich, J., Barrett, C., Scelza, B., Boyette, A., Hewlett, B. Laurence, S. (2013). The Ontogeny of Prosocial Behavior across Diverse Societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sengupta-Irving, T. Redman, E. and Enyedy, N. (2013). Re-storying practice: Using stories about students to advance mathematics education reform. Teaching and Teacher Education, 31, 1–12

White, E. S., Mistry, R. S., & Chow, K. A. (2013). How do teachers talk about economic inequality? The complexity of teaching  at a socioeconomically integrated elementary school. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.


Enyedy, N., Danish, J. A., Delacruz, G., & Kumar, M. (2012). Learning physics through play in an augmented reality environment. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1-32.

Galla, Brian M.; Wood, Jeffrey J. , (2012) Emotional self-efficacy moderates anxiety-related impairments in math performance in elementary school-age youth. Personality and Individual Differences. 52(2), 118-122

Galla, Brian M.; Wood, Jeffrey J.; Chiu, Angela W.; Langer, David A.; Jacobs, Jeffrey; Ifekwunigwe, Muriel; Larkins, Clare. (2012) One year follow-up to modular cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of pediatric anxiety disorders in an elementary school setting. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43(2), 219-226

House, B. R., Henrich, J., Brosnan, S. F., & Silk, J. B. (2012). The ontogeny of human prosociality: behavioral experiments with children aged 3 to 8. Evolution and Human Behavior. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.10.007

Ryu, S., & Sandoval, W. A. (2012). Improvements to elementary children’s epistemic understanding from sustained argumentation. Science Education, 96(3), 488-526.

Vlach, H. A., & Sandhofer, C. M. (2012). Distributing learning over time: The spacing effect in children’s acquisition and generalization of science concepts. Child Development, 83(4), 1137-1144.


Enyedy, N., Danish, J. A., & Fields, D. (2011). Negotiating the “Relevant” in Culturally Relevant Mathematics. Canadian Journal for Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education. 11(3)


Danish, J. A., & Phelps, D. (2010). Representational Practices by The Numbers: How Kindergarten and First-Grade Students Create, Evaluate, and Modify Their Science Representations. International Journal of Science Education.

Fields, D. A. & Kafai, Y. B. (2010). Knowing and throwing mudballs, hearts, pies, and flowers: A connective ethnography of gaming practices. Games and Culture, (Special Issue), 5(1), 88-115.

Fields, D. A. & Kafai, Y. B. (2010). Stealing from Grandma or generating knowledge? Contestations and effects of cheating in Whyville. Games and Culture, (Special Issue), 5(1), 64-87.

Kafai, Y. B., Cook, M. S. & Fields, D.A. (2010). “Blacks deserve bodies too!” Design and discussion about diversity and race in a tween virtual world. Games and Culture, (Special Issue), 5(1), 43-63.

Kafai, Y. B., Fields, D. A. & Searle, K. A. (2010). Multi-modal investigations of relationship play in virtual worlds. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 2(1), 40-48.

Kafai, Y. B., Fields, D. A., & Burke, W. Q. (2010). Entering the clubhouse: Case studies of young programmers joining the online Scratch communities. Journal of Organizational and End-User Computing, 22(2), 21-35.

Kafai, Y. B., Fields, D.A., & Cook, M. S. (2010). Your second selves: Avatar designs and identity play. Games and Culture, (Special Issue) 5(1), 23-42.

Sandoval, W. A., & Çam, A. (2010). Elementary children’s judgments of the epistemic status of sources of justification. Science Education, 95(3), 3830575

Thadani, V., Cook, M., Griffis, K., Wise, J., & Blakey, A. (2010). The Possibilities and limitations of curriculum-based science inquiry interventions for challenging “the pedagogy of poverty.” Equity & Excellence in Education, 43(1)21-37.

Books / Book Chapters

Kafai, Y. B. & Fields, D. A. (in press). Understanding Player Participation and Practices in Virtual Worlds: A Proposal for Qualitative Analyses of Log File Data. In D. Thomas (Ed.), Research methods in virtual worlds. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Fields, D. A. & Kafai, Y. B. (2013). Creative play in virtual worlds: Avatar and cheat designs and performances. In C. Mouza and N. Lavigne (Eds.) Emerging Technologies for the Classroom: A Learning Sciences Perspective. New York: Springer, 239-252.

Kafai, Y. B. & Fields, D. A. (2013). Collaboration in informal learning environments: Access and participation in youth virtual communities. In C. Hmelo-Silver, A. O’Donnell, C. Chan, & C. Chinn (Eds.), International Handbook of Collaborative Learning. New York: Taylor & Francis, 480-494.

Fields, D. A. & Kafai, Y. B. (2012). Navigating life as an avatar: The shifting identities-in-practice of a girl player in a tween virtual world. In C. C. Ching & B. Foley (Eds.) Constructing the self in a digital world, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 222-250.

Giang, M. T., Kafai, Y. B., Fields, D. A., & Searle, K. A. (2012). Social interactions in virtual worlds: Patterns and participation of tween relationship play. In J.Fromme & A. Unger (Eds.), Computer games and new media cultures: A handbook on the state and perspectives of digital games studies. New York: Springer Verlag. 543-556.

Kafai, Y. B., & Fields, D. A. (2013) Connected play: Tweens in a virtual world. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Enyedy, N. and Danish, J. (2015). Learning Physics through Play and Embodied Reflection in a mixed-reality learning environment in Learning Technologies and the Body: Integration and Implementation Victor Lee (Ed) p. 97-111. Routledge.

Enyedy, N. and Stevens, R. (2014). Analyzing Collaborative Discourse. In The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Kieth Sawyer (ed) p. 191-212. Cambridge University Press