Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Learning, Leadership and Change

First Advisor

Rod Githens

First Committee Member

Delores E. McNair

Second Committee Member

Linda Webster


Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are the fastest-growing group of children with special education needs. ASD affects individuals from all walks of life, regardless of race, ethnicity, educational levels of family members, or socio-economic backgrounds. People on the autism spectrum have difficulty communicating and establishing socio-emotional connections with other human beings, making teaching those with ASD challenging for their human teachers.Most research in the field of autism has focused on the clinical aspects of the condition and on the individuals who are on the spectrum. However, research into the perception of the teachers charged with educating ASD students is more limited. In addition, while a wide range of technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and social robots, have been used in various forms to assist with teaching ASD students, research into teacher perceptions with respect to the use of these technologies is also limited.

The purpose of this study was to examine teacher perceptions of the use of a social robot as a teaching assistant to help them educate students on the autism spectrum. Furthermore, due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, this study was conducted under unprecedented circumstances, when all schools throughout the United States were closed, and all teaching was conducted online using video conferencing technologies. Teachers from an autism specialist school in northern California were asked to use a social robot as a teaching assistant with a selection of ASD students during their online Zoom-based video conference teaching sessions. Data were gathered through observations of these sessions and through teacher interviews and a focus group.

This study was conducted using the persuasive technologies conceptual framework. This framework was enhanced to include the teacher as a new persuasive influencer. The findings from this study revealed that ASD teachers found the social robot to be a useful tool to use as a teaching assistant. In particular, teachers found the use of a social robot teaching assistant offered a new approach to teaching and new ways to communicate with and engage their ASD students. Overall, students responded well to instructions and feedback given by the robot. However, student reactions ranged from neutral to very engaged, based upon the complexity of the task the student was undertaking and their general interest in technologically related topics. Importantly, no student reacted negatively to the inclusion of the robot. This report highlights a variety of operational challenges that the teachers experience in integrating the robot into their teaching practices and identifies a range of future research opportunities.



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