Project EMAR

March 26, 2019

Focus Group Team: Working to Uncover Teacher Opinions about Social Robots


Blog post written by Dakota Gonzalez & Jesse Coward

This quarter, our team planned activities for a focus group with high school teachers to uncover their opinions about having a social robot in their school environment. Our team was interested in speaking with local high school teachers to determine their opinions, thoughts, and concerns about EMAR. By having a focus group, our team was interested in answering the following research questions:

  • What are teachers’ opinions about having a mental health robot in their school environment?
  • What do teachers see as the barriers or challenges for a robot in a public high school setting?
  • What do teachers see as the benefits for a robot in a public high school setting?
  • What does student stress look like to teachers?

Getting started

Our team discussed whether to use a focus group or an interview to gain feedback from teachers. We talked about the pros and cons of doing in-depth interviews and focus groups. We decided that a focus group would allow us to talk to a group of teachers and hear their opinions about having social robots in their school environment.

Planning the focus group

Our team planned to host the focus group in the Makerspace on the UWT campus. We anticipated having eight to twelve high school teachers participate in an hour-long session. Because of the large number of participants, we created two separate activities so we could split the teachers into two smaller groups.

The first activity we prepared was an interactive session that would allow the participants to explore the functionality of EMAR. Following the EMAR demonstration, we planned a storyboard activity where participants would sketch pictures of how they envisioned EMAR interacting with students in their own school. In the second activity, we planned to have a focus group discussion with the participants about their experience with EMAR and their thoughts about having a social robot in their school.

Both of these activities will help our team gain insight on what high school teachers think about having social robots in schools.

Preparing materials for the focus group

In preparation for the focus group, our team developed materials to use during the session. These materials included a screener survey that we used to recruit participants, the Negative Attitudes Toward Robots Scale (NARS) and demographic questionnaire, and scripts that each of us used during the study.

We chose to use the NARS because it is helpful to understand participants views about robots. To learn more about the NARS, developed by Syrdal, et al. you can read the academic paper (PDF) that provides more detail.

When developing the questionnaire, we considered the following demographic questions:

  1. Survey
  2. Age (range)
  3. Gender
  4. Race/ethnicity
  5. Subject taught in school
  6. Numbers of years teaching

We managed the recruiting process by creating a spreadsheet to manage participants’ information, writing emails to confirm with the participants that they would be attending the focus group.

Running the focus group

Our team hoped to have eight to twelve teachers attend the focus group, however even with our best efforts to recruit, we only had four teachers in attendance. While we had fewer participants than expected, the four teachers that participated in our activities provided us with valuable insights.

We began our focus group session with a brief introduction to the project. We then gave a demonstration of EMAR to the focus group participants, explaining the current functionality of our prototype. During this time, the participants observed while two of our team members shared how a stressed teen would use a slider scale on EMAR’s belly to rate their stress levels.

EMAR demonstration with teachers

Dakota Gonzalez and Robear Gillis demonstrate how stressed teens would interact with EMAR

After our team finished demonstrating EMAR to the participants, we asked each of the participants to create a storyboard sketch of how they envisioned EMAR living in their school environment. The storyboard session of the focus group took a bit longer than expected.

At the end of the drawing session, we asked each of the teachers to share their sketch. One teacher imagined EMAR wandering through the hallways like a hall monitor, conversing and interacting with students throughout the school day. Another teacher imagined EMAR living in its own house in the cafeteria when students would have free time to talk with it. The open discussion section at the end of the storyboarding session carried over into the focus group discussion. Regardless, it was interesting to see how teachers thought EMAR would mostly reside.

Teacher sharing storyboard

A high school teacher shares a storyboard illustrating EMAR helping students throughout the school day

After the storyboarding session, we began the focus group discussion. During this time, we asked teachers questions including:

  • What do you think about the idea of a social robot to help teens with stress at school?
  • How could the data the robot collects help your school community?
  • What concerns do you have about having a robot in your school community?

During the open discussion section, most of the participants believed EMAR would be a useful tool to schools. However, there was concern about some students becoming overly attached to EMAR, causing them difficulty when transitioning to interacting with people.

The participants stayed a bit longer than the hour that we had planned. We found that an hour-long session was not nearly enough time for the discussion and activities.

Moving forward

Having the focus group was a great experience that provided our research team with a lot of useful feedback. Our team has created a “How To” kit for future research groups to use when conducting focus groups in the future. We are looking forward to spending next quarter transcribing and coding the data we gained from our focus group session!