Panel I.06 — Navigating Techno-Futures in Education: Robotics (will not) act on social justice
Convenors Jessica Parola (University of Naples Federico II, Italy); Letizia Zampino (University of Trento, Italy)
Keywords Robotics; Techno-futures; Socio-technical imaginaries; Social justice
Like most aspects of the algorithmic landscape of everyday life, robotics, AI and automation are rapidly becoming an integral part of educational environments. Physical and social robots such as Nao and Pepper, along with AI-driven platforms, generative AI and/or immersive experiences, are cohabiting classrooms with humans. They are contributing to the emergence of a new techno-educational infrastructure for teaching and learning and are becoming part of a new ‘digital governance of education’ (Landri, 2018). If the spreading of robotics solutions in education is increasingly supported by technology associations and vendors who are taking a pivotal role in influencing techno-futures through imagination, public policies are also contributing. More and more, national and European funding calls identify robotics as a desirable innovation to promote a renewal of teaching and learning and equip new generations of citizens to deal creatively and non-passively with an evolving technological frontier through computational thinking (Bers, 2021).
An interesting set of hypes and hopes is facilitating the entering of robotics in the field of education, relating robotics innovations to a variety of educational and learning goals, achievements and improvements. The engagement with humanoid robots, mobile robots and the related digital devices is linked to and legitimated by the mobilisation of ‘progressive’ and inclusive pedagogies and many other ‘positive’ educational aims. If robotics is often framed within a learning-by-doing, personalizing and active pedagogical frame, robots are presented from time to time as facilitating the development of computational thinking and the coding skills, as capturing students’ attention and as responding to special educational needs. Interestingly, while the effects of robotics innovation in terms of teaching and learning are still uncertain and require considerable research to be explored, the socio-technical imaginaries that they embody and the related envisioned futures become a key part of the educational present and orient agency in the field.
In literature we can find dichotomous positions. Some scholars emphasize robotics as a teaching and learning tool to optimize and engage students in new creative kinds of practices, where AI-powered supports educators in handling various routine tasks (Selwyn, 2019; Zeide, 2019). In contrast to this position, some literature highlights concerns about the alienation of subjects and the substitution of educators in spaces and times in which logics of anticipation and prediction could conduct risks associated with the automation of educational decision-making and relationships (Webb et al., 2020)
Regardless of this existing polarization, this panel has been motivated by a socio-technical perspective that looks at the reconfigurations that robotics could effect in education as the result of multiple and cross-linked ways in which these artifacts come into being and are integrated into assemblages, in which the mobilized visions of the (techno)future of education (Jasanoff, 2015; Williamson, 2017) are a crucial part. In this sense, the future is in the making.
We invite theoretical reflections and/or empirical contributions that investigate the complexities of the nexus between robotics innovation in education and social justice. Contributions from scholars across all interested disciplines and applications in robotics are welcome.