28 September 2021

What is a robot and how does it work? Can you make a human trust a robot? These were some of the questions that were discussed during Professor Ericka Johnsons visit to primary- and middle school students in Vångaskolan and Slaka skola.

A robot cat lies on the floor along with several drawings of robots that the children did.
The robot cat along with some of the drawings the children did during the lesson. Ericka Johnson

During European Researcher's Night, school classes in Östergötland are offered the opportunity to borrow a researcher from Linköping University during a lesson. Ericka Johnson, professor at Gender studies, brought her robot cat when she visited two schools in Norrköping and Linköping, respectively. In Vångaskolan there was a lesson with students from third, fourth and fifth grade, in Slaka skolan, students from the third grade.

During the visit, Ericka and the children discussed, among other things, what a researcher is, what the scientific method is, and how one does "science". After that, the discussion turned to robots. The children talked about what they think robots do and which robots they have come across. They also got to draw a robot.

“I showed them pictures of different robots and we discussed topics such as the class-conflict history of robots as a concept, the socio-technical constructions of gender and race that robot design engage and how one produces trust in human-machine interactions” says Ericka Johnson.

The children also got to pet the robot cat.

“They really liked that” says Ericka with a smile.

The purpose of the visits is to showcase some of the university's activities to new groups of people, in this case schoolchildren.

“It is always fun to speak with different audiences about one’s research and this is a great opportunity to show what we do at the university to a completely new group of people. I also hope it will inspire young kids to become researchers. But it’s possible they mostly remember the cat though.” says Ericka and laughs.

She says the students listened patiently, even though one of the classes needed to take a break in the middle of the lecture. Just as the listeners began to get fidgety everyone stood up and did a dance to a YouTube video.

“Then they sat down and listened quietly again. It seemed much more fun than a traditional fikapaus.”

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