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The case of classroom robots: teachers’ deliberations on the ethical tensions


Robots are increasingly being studied for use in education. It is expected that robots will have the potential to facilitate children’s learning and function autonomously within real classrooms in the near future. Previous research has raised the importance of designing acceptable robots for different practices. In parallel, scholars have raised ethical concerns surrounding children interacting with robots. Drawing on a Responsible Research and Innovation perspective, our goal is to move away from research concerned with designing features that will render robots more socially acceptable by end users toward a reflective dialogue whose goal is to consider the key ethical issues and long-term consequences of implementing classroom robots for teachers and children in primary education. This paper presents the results from several focus groups conducted with teachers in three European countries. Through a thematic analysis, we provide a theoretical account of teachers’ perspectives on classroom robots pertaining to privacy, robot role, effects on children and responsibility. Implications for the field of educational robotics are discussed.

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  2. These discussions were held in English as not all participants were Swedish speakers.

  3. Note that the pre-service teacher focus groups in Sweden were held in English as there were some non-Swedish speakers present. As they were not fluent English speakers, this sometimes resulted in errors. To preserve a verbatim account, however, grammatical and linguistic errors produced in quotes were not corrected.


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We would first of all like to thank all the teachers and students who took part in the studies. We would also like to extend our gratitude to teacher education students Rebecka Olofsson and Trixie Assarsson for their excellent video editing. We thank Tiago Ribeiro, Eugenio Di Tullio, Etienne Roesch and Daniel Gooch for facilitating some of the focus groups. We would also like to thank master student Thomas Rider for his initial transcription services and ideas. We also thank the MUL group at the University of Gothenburg for their valuable feedback on an earlier version of this paper. This work was partially supported by the European Commission (EC) and was funded by the EU FP7 ICT-317,923 project EMOTE ( P. Alves-Oliveira acknowledges a FCT Grant Ref. SFRH/BD/110223/2015. The authors are solely responsible for the content of this publication. It does not represent the opinion of the EC, and the EC is not responsible for any use that might be made of data appearing therein.

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Correspondence to Sofia Serholt.

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Serholt, S., Barendregt, W., Vasalou, A. et al. The case of classroom robots: teachers’ deliberations on the ethical tensions. AI & Soc 32, 613–631 (2017).

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  • Educational robots
  • Social implications
  • Ethics
  • Teachers’ perspectives
  • Thematic analysis
  • Focus group