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ISSN : 2092-674X (Print)
ISSN : 2092-6758 (Online)
Asia-Pacific Collaborative education Journal Vol.12 No.1 pp.45-60

Research Trend Analysis on the Usage of Robotics in Education

Maria Maximova, YoungHwan Kim
Pusan National University, Republic of Korea


Recently, the interest in the educational robotics has grown greatly, but few studies have been conducted in this field. This study intended to investigate the trend of usage robotics in education during the period of 2001-2014 while analyzing 133 research papers to find the answers to the following questions. First, what is the general research trend of utilizing robotics in education? Second, what are the most recent issues and challenges of robotics in education?
Publications have been analyzed using quantitative analysis and cross-tabulation. All gathered articles have been categorized and analyzed under twelve categories. Furthermore, seven categories have been cross-tabulated with other categories.
Overall findings present that there are a significant amount of publications on higher and secondary education. Articles on early education and teachers training have started to become more apparent lately. It has also been noticed that robotics generally is seen as an extracurricular activity. Among educational robots, ‘robot kit’ type was one of the highly utilized, especially LEGO Mindstorms robot kit. The main objective of most analyzed articles is the experience of a course curriculum.
Results of the study show that there are three main issues and challenges of robotics in education. First, there is a lack of quantitative research on the impact of robotics in education. Second is an absence of well-defined curriculum for target audience. Third is the narrow use of robotics in education. The study also present recommendations for future research.




Robotics has become one of the rapidly growing areas of science and technology. In the last few years, the interest in the usage of educational robotics has also grown greatly. It has become a new ICT approach in education to motivate student learning, to develop the problem solving and cooperative learning skills, as well as to support other school disciplines. Robotics in education was implemented for after-school classes, camps, robot competitions, and some schools’ curriculum. There is an increase in the amount of conferences, workshops, and training on usage of robotics in education. In addition, the number of studies on the robotics in education increased to 197 publications during last 10 years (Benitti, 2012). Moreover, about 3 million educational robots are expected to be sold within the period of 2014- 2017 (International Federation of Robotics, 2013). Although robotics has been integrated into the curriculum, some studies claim that it is used only as a passive tool on supporting technical disciplines (Petre & Price, 2004, Mitnik, Nussbaum & Soto, 2008, Rusk, Resnick, Berg & Pezalla-Granlund, 2008, Benitti, 2012, Alimisis, 2013). 
Furthermore, in spite of the increase of appearance and variety of educational robots’ types, there are many teachers, who find it difficult to follow the trends of robotics education and there are not enough teachers, who are well trained in that field (Demetriou, 2011, Benitti, 2012).
Other findings show that despite an increased interest in the usage of robotics in education, there have been few research, conducted on the analysis of their trends and issues. Throughout the scope of this research only two comprehensive overviews (Benitti, 2012, Mubin, Stevens, Shahid, Mahmud & Dong, 2013) on the usage of robotics in education were found during 2001 to 2014 period. Benitti (2012) reviewed 10 articles, which considered students from elementary to high school. Mubin et al. (2013) made an analytic overview of robotics in education, concentrating more on the explanation and classification of the role and usage of robotics in education.
Therefore, regarding all above facts the purpose of this study was to attempt to answer the following
research questions:
1. What is the general research trend of utilizing robotics in education?
2. What are the most recent issues and challenges of robotics in education?


Research Subject

To answer the research questions, a literature gathering of relevant research and studies was conducted in the following bibliographic databases: ERIC, EBSCO (Education Research Complete), IEEE XPLORE, and Google Scholar. All articles for analysis should have been written in English language and focused on the students’ additional training of non-robotics major. If the title was confusing, the abstract was reviewed to identify whether the article discussed educational robotic tool and robots used in education as a part of a curriculum or extracurricular activity. Thus, after the first stage, 138 articles were chosen to be analyzed. After content analysis, 5 out of the 138 articles were excluded because they either did not have an in-depth analysis or were technical articles on robotics. Thereby, the total number of articles were reduced to 133 articles on the period from 2001 till 2014.

Content Analysis

This study has been used quantitative content analysis. In order to see the trend of publications, all gathered publications have been categorized and analyzed under twelve categories (see Table 1) such as: 1) research objectives, 2) detailed objectives, 3) research methodology, 4) target audience, 5) subject area, 6) types of robots, 7) learning approaches, 8) types of learning environment, 9) types of learning activity, 10) attitude, 11) year of publication and 12) country. These categories were constructed by considering the related articles, such as Creswell (2012), Mubin et al. (2013), Alemany and Cerver (2014), Liu, Newsom, Schunn, Shoop (2013), Demetriou (2011), Hmelo-Silver (2004), Altin and Pedaste (2013), De Cristóforis, Pedre, Nitsche, Fischer, Pessacg and Di Pietro (2013) and others.
Table 1. Categories for Trend Analysis
In order to have more detailed answers and explanation to research questions on the recent trends, issues and challenges of robotics in education seven categories have been analyzed through a cross-tabulation analysis e.g. “Research objective”, “Research methodology”, “Target audience”, “Subject area”, “Types of robot”, “Types of learning approaches”, “Types of learning environment”

Results and Discussion

Question 1. What is the general research trend of utilizing robotics in education?

A. Research trend of research objective
The result shows that most of the studies utilized a “practical” research objective (88%) rather than “theoretical” (12%) on the usage of robotics in education. The “detailed research objective” showed that 26% of all research papers usually used a “course experience” objective. While objectives on “types of learning experience” (17%), “effect of robotics to education” (16%) and “platform usage experience”(15%) have been used fewer in research papers. Cross-tabulation of “research objective” and “detailed objective” categories indicated that only research papers with a practical objective focused on the experiment of a new course (23,3%), whereas theoretical objective studies emphasized revealing the effect of robotics on the education objective (5,3%).
The popularity of the “course experience” objective could be stemmed from the absence of a welldefined curriculum, allowing researchers and educators to experiment and utilize their own course curriculum in addition to incorporating new learning environments and platforms.
B. Research trend of research methodology
The results of analyzing trend on “research methodology” showed that majority of the research articles utilize a “qualitative analysis” (62%) compared to “quantitative analysis” (24%). Based on Figure 1 below, “qualitative analysis” was the most preferred analysis in publications from 2001 to 2014 compared to other methodologies appearing after 2007.
Figure 1. Cross-tabulation of “research methodology” and “years.”
The motive for implementing qualitative analysis in most of the research studies could be related to the fact that robotics is a rapidly changing area of education, with different types of robots, learning environment and platforms. According to Qualitative Research Consultants Association (2015), “qualitative analysis is often used in situations when analyzing new product idea generation, investigating the current potential of the product and finding strengths and weakness of the product.” In fact, most of the research papers with qualitative analysis had a “course experience” objective (26,8%) as well as “experience of a new platform” (18,3%) and “learning environment in robotics education” (18,3%) (see Table 2). 
Table 2. Cross-tabulation of “research methodology” and “detail research objectives.” n (%)
C. Research trend of target audience
Results of target audience trend showed that publications mostly cover “higher” (31%) and “secondary” (28%) education. Although, “early education”, “skill development”, “adult” and “vocational” educational sectors had less amount of publications. From the timeline of “target audience”, it can be seen that past research publications focused primarily on “higher education” (see Figure 2). Starting from 2007 publications expanded to other target audiences, especially on “secondary” and “primary” education. Thus, from that year usage of robotics in education has become more apparent in various educational sectors. For instance, publications on “early education” started to grow after 2010, which can be followed by the global trend of encouraging students’ interest in STEM education. According to researchers’ observation, the sooner students will experience to STEM, the less they will be exposed to genderbased stereotypes when choosing STEM careers (Metz, 2007, Elkin, Sullivan & Bers, 2014). 
D. Research trend of subject area
The result of “subject area” presents that the usage of robotics mostly seen in a “robot” course (38%) and in “additional events” (37%). Other subject areas have used robotics comparatively less in their classes, more specifically “science” (13%), “technical” (8%), “language” (3%), and “music” (1%). Cross-tabulation of “subject area” and “types of learning activity” showed that “robot” course are mostly introduced as an “intra-curricular activity”, relative to “additional events” being introduced as “extra-curricular activity.” Moreover, crosstabulation of “target audience” and “subject area” categories showed that “robot” course have a strong presence in research papers of “higher education.” Usually, educational robots are used in university in “Introduction to Robotics” course and as an additional tool to support other disciplines as programming, physics etc.
Figure 2. Cross-tabulation of “target audience” and “years.”
At the same time, “additional events” have more publications from “early” to “secondary education”, as well as, in the “skill development” category.
Typically, “additional events” mean usage of robotics in after-school classes in addition to classes in robot camps and competitions for the younger audience. “Skill development” is generally defined as workshops and training for teachers and educators. The reasons for such a significant presence of “additional events” in those educational sectors is, as mentioned earlier, the absence of a well-defined curriculum. Even though primary, secondary and skill development education “robot” course is placed second, most of these activities were extra-curricular.
In the case of publications on other subjects, such as science, technical, language and music, the amount is comparatively low. Even the fact that “technical” and “science” subjects have more attention in secondary and higher education the usage of robotics still mostly seen used in stereotypical disciplines, such as mathematics and physics. However, educational robotics provides a variety of possibilities, which can be utilized in different disciplines, such as biology, geography, music, language, art and other disciplines.
E. Research trend of types of robot
The findings on the “types of robots” showed a significant amount of publications on “robot kit” (49%). Other “types of robots”, besides “virtual robots” (16%) and “autonomous mobile robots” (15%) have much less percentage of publications. In the timeline of “types of robots”, it is seen that presence of other types is more irregular. For instance, “virtual robot” have been mentioned once in 2001, again from 2004 to 2006 and once more from 2008 to 2014 (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Cross-tabulation of “types of robots” and “years.”
On terms of the presence of “types of robots” in “subject areas”, there is an obvious inclination towards “robot kit.” Robot kit is used in a variety of subject areas (including language), especially in “robot” courses and “additional events.” “Autonomous mobile robot” also has a presence in a variety of subject (including “music”) but with a less amount compared to “robot kit.” While, publications on other types of robot presented on more specific subject areas.
In “target audience” category, “robot kit” has been used in every educational sector, especially in “secondary education.” “Humanoid robot” is mostly seen in “primary education.” While “virtual”, “autonomous mobile” and “industrial” robots are mostly in “higher education.”
In “types of learning activities”, “robot kit” has been used in all activities, especially in “hands-on” (32,9%). The reasons for the popularity of “robot kit” is that it has many possibilities of assembling, constructing and programming, which are cover not only in “hands-on” activity but also in “virtual interactions” (10,6%).
Furthermore, it has been observed that one of the most mentioned “robot kit” (76%) in publications are LEGO RCX and NXT robots. The frequent reference to the LEGO RCX and NXT robots in these articles is the fact that, since 1998, LEGO Robot Company was one of the first manufacturers of educational robots. LEGO robot has numerous advantages as this company not only manufactures robots but also focuses on developing learning materials for different level, ages, language and is also found in the market all across the world. LEGO robot is programming and assembling are differ for all ages, levels, and tastes, and there are also a variety of competitions and conferences for LEGO RCX and NXT robots. Finally, their prices are reasonable and with relatively fair quality. However, as more types of robots are appearing yearly, more possibilities of using alternative educational robots are increasing. Thereby there is a need for expanding and researching more other types of educational robots.
F. Research trend of types of learning approaches
On terms of the “types of learning approaches”, research papers usually state about three main approaches, among eight: problem solving (26%), collaborative (21%) and task oriented learnings (20%).
Most of “problem solving” learning approaches used in “secondary” and “primary” education. Whereas “collaborative”, “project based” and “task oriented” are in higher education.
The reasons for using the large amount of “problem solving learning” in publications on usage robotics in education can be explained as educational robots help to explain the science and technology concepts for students and help them to develop problem solving skills. (Dillon, 1995, Portz, 2002, Chambers & Carbonaro, 2003, Chambers, Carbonaro & Rex, 2007, Norton, McRobbie & Ginns, 2007, Chambers, Carbonaro & Murray, 2008, Castledine & Chalmers, 2011). Problem-solving skills help student to reflect and correlate how and what they have learned. Furthermore, this ability will help students solve problems encountered on a daily basis (Kramaski, Mevarech & Arami, 2002, Edwards-Leis, 2007, Castledine & Chalmers, 2011).
In terms of higher education publications use of “collaborative”, “project based” and “task oriented” learning approaches, studies showed that they help to encourage students’ motivation in class, develop students’ teamwork and critical thinking skills (Norton et al., 2007, Lopez-Nicola´S, Romeo & Guerrero, 2011).
In cross-tabulation of “learning approaches” in “subject area” showed that “problem solving” and “collaborative” are mostly used in additional events less in “robot” courses. While “problem solving” has mostly been utilized in “primary” and “secondary” education, both of these categories primarily use robotics in “additional events.” Meanwhile, “higher” education focused on “collaborative” learning approach, and its use of robotics is usually in “robot course.” 
G. Research trend of types of learning environment
From research findings, the most popular “types of learning environment” is a “hands-on” activity (62%), in comparison to virtual activity (29%). In cross-tabulation of “types of learning environment” and “target audience”, hands-on activity is presented in each educational sector and with a higher amount on “higher” and “secondary” education. Virtual interaction is also presented in every educational sector but in a lesser amount.
In the case of the subject area, “hands-on” learning environment has a presence in every subject area and frequently in “additional events.” The reasons for choosing hands-on activity according to Zhang, Heng, Zia & Berri (2012) is that “the hands-on activities strengthen students’ skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity/innovation” (p. 2). Demetriou (2011) stated that it can be a good motivator as: “Abstract knowledge is more difficult to comprehend and sometimes not interesting enough for most students. By providing experiments and real-world situations, students become more interested, and they learn new topics much easier” (p. 30).
Figure 4. Timeline of publications from 2001 to 2014.

Question 2. What are the most recent issues and challenges of robotics in education?

There are several issues that hinder successfully integrating the usage of robotics in education. During content analysis, most articles mentioned challenges of the usage robotics in education were gathered and divided into three main:
1. Lack of quantitative research.
2. Absence of well-defined curriculum.
3. Narrow usage of robotics.
The absence of well-defined curriculum issue have several sub challenges:
● Absence of teaching and learning materials.
● Robotics still used as an extra-curricular program.
● Shortage of well-trained teachers in that field.
A. Lack of quantitative research
The first most mentioned problem is a lack of quantitative research. Findings show that the most frequently used research analysis in publications was “qualitative analysis” (62%) (see Figure 2). Results also show that “qualitative analysis” steadily started to be used from 2001 to 2014, while publications with other analysis started to appear only after 2007 (see Figure 1). 
Similarly, previous researchers have been emphasizing on the lack of quantitative research on the effectiveness and impact of robotics in education (Barker & Ansorge, 2007, Bredenfeld, Hofmann et al., 2010, Ortiz et al., 2011, Benitti, 2012, Alimisis, 2013, Altin & Pedaste, 2013).
The result of cross-tabulation of “research methodology” with “detailed objective” presented that most of the research papers with qualitative analysis had a “course experience” objective (see Table 2).
As have been stated in “research trend of research methodology” section, the reason for choosing “qualitative analysis” in many of the publications is based on the rapid changes in robotics trends, primarily in types of robot, platform, learning environment and others. Thus, in order to investigate perspectives of this new phenomenon, authors preferred to use qualitative analysis.
 The main concern of researchers was that most studies with “quantitative analysis”, had a “course experience” objective rather than objective on the “effect of robotics to education”. According to previous studies, despite all benefits of the usage robotics in education, effectiveness and impact of robotics on students’ education still doubtful as there is a shortage of evidence (Kandlhofer, Steinbauer, Sundstrom & Weiss 2012, Alimisis 2013, Benitti 2012), which can be explained by three major reasons:
Firstly, most research results are subjective as they are based only on teacher or student’s perception rather than students’ achievements (Bredenfeld et al. 2010, Benitti 2012, De Cristoforis et al., 2012, Alimisis 2013).
Secondly, there is no system of indicators and standardized evaluation methodology to clearly measure the robotics benefits (Ortiz et al., 2011, Alimisis 2013). Moreover, evaluating and following students’ progress is hard to track especially in problem solving and project based tasks as results are usually unpredictable and diverse (Alimisis, 2013).
Thirdly, more longitudinal evaluation research based on the researchers’ recommendation is necessary for future research studies (Kandlhofer et al., 2012, Alimisis 2013).
B. Narrow usage of robotics possibilities.
Another most mentioned problem is a narrow usage of robotics possibilities. The results of data analysis show that the usage of robotics has mostly been found in “robot” course (38%) and in “additional events” (37%). Cross-tabulation of “subject area” and “years” categories showed that usage of robotics in “language” and “music” classes have been less than in other subjects. “Robot” course had gained much traction starting from 2002 to 2014 (see Table 3). 
Content analysis revealed the same results from publications starting from 2004, where robotics was introduced in education as a supporting tool and generally in technical disciplines (Petre & Price, 2004, Mitnik et al., 2008, Rusk et al., 2008; Benitti, 2012, Alimisis, 2013).
Although robotics is an interdisciplinary subject, most users, meaning teachers, students and researchers, have stereotyped robots as only being used in technical fields. There are a variety of possibilities in using robotics in education, which can help develop students' 21st century skills. Rusk et al. (2008) demonstrated this through engaging with more diverse audience and suggested four strategies: "projects focusing on themes, not just challenges; projects combining art and engineering; projects encouraging storytelling; organizing exhibitions, rather than competitions.”
Table 3.Cross-tabulation of “subject area” and “years.”
For example, the study of Rusk et al. (2008) show examples of combining art and engineering, encouraging students' storytelling and concentrating on students' robot exhibitions, which can also inspire both girls and boys of different ages by using the PicoCrickets. Or another example can be the study of Cuperman and Verner (2013) where they utilize robotics in their biology classes by PicoCricket robots. An example of Turbak and Berg (2002) study show an attempt to implement robotics in liberal arts class. In terms of language classes, robotics is mostly being used to teach English as a second language for example, by implementing robots in English storytelling classes (Chang, Lee, Chao, Wang & Chen, 2010), physics classes to build up their science vocabulary (Robinson, 2005), and even in life science to explain evolution (Whittier & Robinson, 2007). However, all these examples are only one of the few studies, which this research has found. Therefore, there is a need for more publications on a wider range of possible usage of robotics in education that engage more audience with a variety of interests.
C. Absence of well-defined curriculum.
According to data analysis, the most types used in a learning activity in research papers were extracurricular activity being 57% and intra-curricular at 43%. However, intra-curricular activity being mostly in higher education and extra-curricular activity took place mostly in secondary and primary educations.
Many studies on usage robotics in education mentioned about the absence of a well-defined curriculum and about its’ three sub-issues (Chang et al., 2010, Demetriou, 2011, Benitti, 2012, Altin & Pedaste, 2013, Mubin et al., 2013): the absence of teaching and learning materials; shortage of well-trained teachers in robotics in the education field; introduction of robotics generally as an extracurricular activity.
Mubin et al. (2013) emphasized in their work that the major deficiencies of usage robotics in education are the absence of a well-defined curriculum, shortage of learning materials, and utilization of robotics only in a part of informal education. At the same year, Alimisis (2013) claimed the same problem in European schools as an absence of systematic introduction of robotics in school curricula. Benitti (2012) found in his review that most of the experiments on robotics occurred in an after-school program or summer camp program.
According to Blikstein (2013), obstacles to implementing robotics in formal education are the amount of additional work from teachers’ side as for example organize all the robot kits' pieces after each class, the cost of the robots and equipment and people perception as robotics is only for boys. The robotics to be a part of informal education is necessary. As Mubin et al. (2013) pointed out that informal education does not require welldefined curricula. This means that there is no need for proper curriculum design as well as less teachers training and usually such classes are short term and one-off, hence no longitudinal impact to the students. Thus, efforts must be devoted to the design of learning material and appropriate curriculum.
Reflecting on all researchers’ arguments, it will be better to focus more on research and development of a well-defined curriculum for the usage of robotics in formal education. Moreover, curriculum, learning materials, and teacher training should be individualized for each types of robot, purpose, age, gender, level and many other factors.

Results and Discussion

This study presents a review of research publications from the period of 2001 to 2014 on the use of robotics in education with a purpose of finding the general research trend of utilizing robotics in education and to reveal the most recent issues and challenges of robotics in education. Overall, the general research trend shows an increase in the quantity of publications on the usage of robotics in education. Year by year publications shows an increase in a variety of target audiences, types of robots and its objectives.
There are a significant amount of publications on "higher" (31%), "secondary" (28%) and "primary" (20%) education, which also show collaboration between these education sectors. In the case of other education sectors, publications from "skills development" and "early education" have started to become more apparent because of the increased interest in encouraging the young generation to study STEM education and need of well-trained teachers in that area. However, "vocational" and "adult" education has seen to have less interest from researchers.
Among five "Types of robots" categories, robot kit type was one of the most utilized robot type in publications compared to other educational robot types. In spite of the fact that there is a big variety of brands, approximately 76% of these studies mentioned about LEGO RCX and NXT robot kits.
In the case of issues and challenges, which usage of robotics in education faced, according to findings from literature review, there were noted three main issues, which are the lack of quantitative research on the impact of robotics in education, absence of a well-defined curriculum for all target audience and narrow use of robotics in education.
The first issue is the lack of quantitative research on effectiveness and impact of robotics in education, which has been mentioned by researchers (Barker & Ansorge, 2007, Bredenfeld et al., 2010, Ortiz et al., 2011, Benitti, 2012, Alimisis, 2013, Altin & Pedaste, 2013). In addition, it has been proved by this study’s data analysis, where a majority of publications utilized qualitative (62%) compared to quantitative analysis (24%).
The second issue is the narrow use of robotics in education (Petre & Price, 2004, Mitnik et al., 2008, Rusk et al., 2008, Benitti, 2012, Alimisis, 2013), the problem is that teachers and educators do not see other possibilities of using robotics in education other than technical aspects. Although robotics is interdisciplinary, it can be used not only in mathematics and physics but also in other subjects such as biology, language, music and art. This study has found only a few studies, which utilized robotics in education in different subjects than mathematics, physics and computer science.
The third issue is the absence of a well-defined curriculum (Chang et al., 2010, Demetriou, 2011, Benitti, 2012, Altin & Pedaste, 2013, Mubin et al., 2013). The reasons for this is that robotics are seen mostly as an informal education. It is generally introduced as a passive supporting tool to other disciplines or robot class in after-school education. However, informal education does not require well-defined curricula, which means that there is no need for proper curriculum design as well as less teachers trainings, and usually such classes are short term and one-off, hence no longitudinal impact to students (Mubin et al., 2013)
Based on all research publications, following recommendations can be made.
Firstly, in order to increase the role of robotics in education, it is important to develop a welldefined curriculum. Curriculum, learning materials, and teachers training should be developed and individualized for each type of robot, group age, gender and level for each subject.
Moreover, the necessity for quantitative analysis has become more apparent because of the lack of elaborated lesson plans concerning the effectiveness and efficiency of robot learning, which can be done through a quantitative analysis. By using quantitative analysis, researchers should concentrate on defining the teachers and learners' need and also research about robot itself in order to develop requirements of educational robots suitable for each subject, level, age, objective and other factors. In addition, it is necessary that future research will incorporate longitudinal evaluation in their research in order to see the impact of robotics on students' future.
Finally, more publications should focus on a variety of target audience, types of educational robots and in a wider range of alternative usage of robotics in education in order to engage a more diverse audience with a variety of interests.




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