R. Raso, G. Città, G. Crifaci, E. Prenjasi, M. Gentile, M. Allegra

National Research Council (ITALY)
The demand to support special educative needs has considerably risen recently, highlighting the longing of customized learning paths. According to the “Policy guidelines on inclusion in education” (UNESCO 2009, Paris), “the concept of inclusion focuses on the learning environments and it involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision that covers all children of the appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children”. The present paper presents a contribution along these lines that follows an inclusive edutainment (educational entertainment) paradigm to create a smart learning environment where students are provided with multi-modal and multi-sensory learning experiences in order to learn everywhere in a more entertaining fashion.

With the perspective to stimulate new ways of learning and teaching through ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) and digital technologies, the aim is to reinvent and reuse the available ICT educational tools, i.e. affective, game-based and educational cloud learning, by complementing them with advances in educational methods coming from neuroscience and educational pedagogy and psychology theories. We would settle a continuum of education through the extension of the current didactic formal settings, as school classrooms and scientific laboratories, to real-life informal learning situations, as students’ households and museums. The proposed methodology would go towards the development of a specialist approach that might become an ordinary inclusive practice able to lead up students with different cognitive profiles to comparable learning levels.

By means of a multidisciplinary approach that integrates educational tools and methods and motivating and engaging technologies will be used, socially assistive robots will guide primary school students (6 - 8 years old) through interactive personalized learning experiences featured by artworks by acting as cultural mediators of educational contents. Socially assistive robots have been successfully used in therapies of children with autism to foster communication and social relationships, expression and perception of emotions. They create interesting, appealing and meaningful interplay situations that compel children to interact with them with a greater verbal interaction. Indeed, children with autism, like most children, show a great affinity towards robots.

The definition of an inclusive learning and teaching methodology within a continuum of informal smart learning environments supposes the deepening of a global and well-structured characterization of children’s cognitive profiles, along with an in-depth analysis of autistic and typically developed children’s cognitive processes and the differences among them. We expected the above described outcomes being supported by recent evidence based research outcomes that shows how cognitive skills in children with autism improve when educative tasks involve images.