Emily A. Yow

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

William Morris


Empathy helps us understand and respond appropriately to how others feel. It allows us to establish meaningful connections to those around us at home, school, work, and in society. The education system has realized the importance of social-emotional skills and have started implementing programs to help students develop these skills. Businesses have also started developing principles and practices that center around empathy and perspective-taking. The purpose of this action research was to assess the impact of robotics on fifth grade students’ empathy towards people with disabilities. This study aimed to answer the following research questions: (1) How does using robotics effect students’ empathy? and (2) How does the innovation impact fifth grade students’ perceptions of individuals with disabilities?

Fifth grade students at Burton Academy within the researcher’s classroom participated in a disability scenario in which they programmed a Lego Boost Robot to assist a person with a disability achieve a given task. In order to assess the impact of this innovation, quantitative data was collected through the use of a 20-item pre- and post-survey. In addition, qualitative data was collected through individual interviews and student response journals. Participants’ names and the name of the school were replaced with pseudonyms. Using descriptive statistics and inductive analysis, each data source was analyzed separately and the findings were merged in order to draw conclusions. The innovation had no statistically significant impacts on overall empathy, cognitive empathy, and affective empathy as measured by the Basic Empathy Scale. The qualitative findings of this study revealed four themes. These themes include: (a) the innovation increased students’ understanding of people with disabilities and realization that they aren’t treated well, (b) students perceive disabilities to severely limit participation in everyday life and impact families, (c) the innovation increased empathy and improved manner of treating others, and (d) the participants value empathy. Implications include the implementation of robotics in the classroom as a tool to teach empathy and other skills and increasing disability awareness in children and adults.


© 2022, Emily A. Yow