Robots in Education: Implementing Robot Tutors in a Morally Justified Way

Social robots are a promising new technology for primary education. However, they also introduce practical and moral challenges and there is an increasing demand for guidelines for a responsible, safe introduction of social robots.


This PhD project aims at creating guidelines, in close cooperation’s with
stakeholders, for applying social robots in a morally responsible way in Dutch
primary education.


The main goal of this project is to create a guideline for, applying social robots in
a morally responsible way in Dutch primary education. This guideline can be
used by all key stakeholders, such as teachers, robotic companies, and school
management when making decisions on how to design, build and applied
social robots.


01 November 2017 - 01 November 2021


This project utilizes the Value Sensitive Design Methodology. First, we conduct a
large scale systematic literature review, to identify the relevant moral values.
Thereafter, we conduct focus group sessions with stakeholders to further
conceptualize these values. Based on the focus group sessions we will develop a
survey to getter quantitative data on stakeholder perspective. These studies will
form the basis for the guidelines. This research is funded by NWO.

Extra information

Imagine a robot that helps the teacher in the classroom . Matthijs
Smakman was interviewed for this study by the Dutch Research Agenda

"Robots give teachers more time for meaningful social contact with the students.

Matthijs Smakman, researcher


Contribution to science
Multiple studies emphasize the urgent need for ethical considerations and
guidelines for robot tutors and theoretical
integration of thus far fragmented results (see Introduction). This PhD-
research aims to do so by developing a new moral theory on the ethical
conceptions attached to the implementation of robot tutors and
empirically test the theoretical assumptions. The results will be
disseminated at scientific conferences, debates, and in journal publications.

Contribution to society
The fear and implications of intelligent robots taking over jobs is part of an
international debate (Brynjolfsson & McAfree, 2016) and will have a great
impact on the tasks of teachers. Robot tutors are a perfect candidate to
assist teachers in their increasing workload. However, care needs to be
taken when introducing robot tutors in the classroom. This PhD-project
acknowledges the moral considerations and provides the necessary
theoretical basis to develop a code of conduct to guide the implementation
of robot tutors in a morally appropriate way. The results will be brought to
the public through websites, video clips, and societal debates.


This research is funded by NWO, Doctoral Grant for Teachers, project
number: 023.00.066

Additional documents and referrals


Smakman, M.H.J.; Konijn, E.A.; Vogt, P.;
Pankowska, P. Attitudes towards Social Robots in
Education: Enthusiast, Practical, Troubled, Sceptic,
and Mindfully Positive. Robotics 2021, 10, 24.

Smakman, M., Berket, J., & Konijn, E. A. (2020,
October). The Impact of Social Robots in Education:
Moral Considerations of Dutch Educational
Policymakers. In 2020 29th IEEE International
Conference on Robot and Human Interactive
Communication (RO-MAN) (pp. 647-652). IEEE.

Van Ewijk, G., Smakman, M., & Konijn, E. A.
(2020, June). Teachers & perspectives on social robots
in education: an exploratory case study. In
Proceedings of the Interaction Design and Children
Conference (pp. 273-280).

Konijn, E.A., Smakman, M. & van den Berghe, R.
(2020). Use of Robots in Education. In: van den
Bulck, J., Sharrer, E., Ewoldsen, D. & Mares, M-L.
(Eds). The International Encyclopedia of Media
Psychology. Wiley Publisher 

Smakman, M., Jansen, B., Leunen, J., & Konijn, E.
(2020) Acceptable Social Robots in Education: A
Value Sensitive Parent Perspective. In INTED2020
Proceedings (pp 7946-7953). 

Smakman M., Konijn E.A. (2020) Robot Tutors:
Welcome or Ethically Questionable?. In: Merdan
M., Lepuschitz W., Koppensteiner G., Balogh R.,
Obdržálek D. (eds) Robotics in Education. RiE
2019. Advances in Intelligent Systems and
Computing, vol 1023. Springer, Cham

Goudzwaard, M., Smakman, M., & Konijn, E. A.
(2019). Robots are Good for Profit: A Business
Perspective on Robots in Education. 2019 Joint
IEEE 9th International Conference on Development
and Learning and Epigenetic Robotics (ICDL-
EpiRob), 54–60.


Imagine a robot that helps the teacher in the classroom.

HU researcher involved in the research

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Professor Matthijs Smakman

Matthijs Smakman

  • Professor
  • Research group: Smart Systems for Healthy Living