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Using wearable devices, Prof. Motoyoshi tries to understand the emotions of people with disabilities.

In education, each child, especially those with disabilities, has a unique condition and situation. Associate Professor Motoyoshi is working on education and research to support children with disabilities. We interviewed Prof. Motoyoshi about his research on wearable devices.

An educational field called “self-reliance activities” proactively improves and overcomes difficulties of a disability

Interviewer (◆ hereafter): Please tell us about your research!

Prof. Motoyoshi: There is an educational field called "self-reliance activities" within special support education. This field cultivates knowledge, skills, attitudes, and practice necessary to proactively improve and overcome difficulties in learning and daily life caused by disabilities.
In schools, teachers manage things to prevent students from being disadvantaged due to a disability. However, special considerations are not expected in the real world. Therefore, students need to acquire the ability to determine and express their strengths and weaknesses and advocate for the type of support that they require. Additionally, they should know about auxiliary tools that may complement their weaknesses. Because the degree of disability varies by person, self-reliance activities is an educational field that guides students to acquire the ability to advocate for themselves.

I have been conducting research and practice on what kinds of guidance to provide in self-reliance activities and what kinds of tools can be utilized to help children with disabilities participate fully in society.

◆: The coping method and the way of thinking vary by person in education and guidance to realize self-reliance, right?

Prof. Motoyoshi: That's right. From a medical perspective, a treatment plan is largely determined once a diagnosis is made. However, individual needs must be considered in education and support. Necessary support will vary depending on the living environment and daily habits. Although two people may have the same diagnosis, one person may need something that the other does not. Our activities begin in the laboratory by listening to people with disabilities such as, “I am troubled by these kinds of things.” The first step is counseling.
Then we consider support plans in accordance with individual needs based on environmental aspects such as school and home, their ability, and what they can do. We must also consider their growth in terms of education. For example, a one-sided suggestion such as "You can carry it out this way" does not grow their ability to think. Hence, we try to think together about what to do.
  For example, a child with a learning disability (LD) may find it particularly difficult to write. In such a case, a child may struggle to write answers on paper in examinations, even though their academic ability is fine. In one case involving an elementary school student, the student’s motivation to learn was deteriorated since knowing the answer didn’t lead to grades because it took too much time to write on paper. As a support plan, I decided to identify “something that can replace writing.” Instead of developing completely new services, I brainstormed with the student to determine if there was an existing tool that could be utilized with a little ingenuity. The student consulted with the family at home and came up with an application for a tablet. After trying out the tablet in practical settings, we assessed which situations it was useful. For example, the tablet worked well for learning math but not for learning Japanese language. Thus, we considered other methods and made judgments to optimize use of the tablet. Because the student was a child, it was inevitable that his/her judgement was immature. As another approach, we began to participate in classes at school of the supported child, and continue to offer support by talking about alternate activities or ideas when the child seems to be in trouble. I strive to let the supported child come up with his/her own solutions while preventing stagnation in learning.
  On the other hand, if a disability poses a challenge, the difficulty may improve over time. For example, if a disability makes it challenging to write, the writing ability may improve over time. Even if a child initially decides to use a support application, there is a possibility that the child might determine "It is better to write without using the application." Hence, we think it is important to periodically update the necessary guidance and support by considering the current conditions as a child grows.
  We are also studying self-reliance activities by looking ahead to life after graduation of students from special support schools. We are participating in the research at the special support school attached to Kumamoto University. It is very exciting to be involved in the construction of a new class planning system that considers contemporary issues in education such as the objectivity of evaluations, respect for diversity, individual optimization of educational content, effective use of limited resources, and work style reforms for teachers. It is costly to develop new techniques. Because teachers and parents often lack the time or resources, I believe that it is our task to tackle such problems in education and seek solutions that can be practically implemented. This mindset will not only advance my research but will also enhance the quality of education of students with disabilities.


Interests in the relationship between the mind and body led me to conduct research on psychology and education

◆: What motivated you to start conducting research in this field?

Prof. Motoyoshi: I’ve played handball since I was in junior high school. When I was in high school, I wondered why a person doing the best in muscle training isn’t always the best player in an actual game. I started to think that there might be a psychological process for skillfulness of movement and the speed of acquisition, which cannot be achieved by repetitive practice only. This motivated me to learn psychology.
  As a student, I encountered Dohsa-hou, a clinical psychological technique related to the learning of body movements. This is an area of study on what kind of education should be provided to move the body just as desired. This field matched my interests. I began by conducting research through a collaborative project between the university and welfare facilities. As I continued researching this technique, my interests expanded to the area of special support education. Eventually, I became a specialist in education for people with disabilities.

Utilizing wearable devices to measure the emotions

◆: You are also working on the research about emotions using wearable devices, right?

Prof. Motoyoshi: Yes. This is my new research area. As a part of my research, I put two smartwatches on my arm and conducted a comparative experiment to see which one is easier to use. I began this research because objective indicators may facilitate the proper understanding of people with severe disabilities, especially those who have difficulties communicating. Conventionally, supporters of such children explain how the child feels based on their own knowledge about the child. This method is subjective and requires high observation skills. Furthermore, we cannot evaluate or judge the accuracy of the observation. In the education of children with severe disabilities, we try to evaluate the learning effect according to individually set goals. However, this is typically difficult to determine objectively.
  Some studies have used unified indicators such as brainwaves and electrocardiograms to determine the learning effects. Conventional devices for measuring these indicators are not suited for school education. Recently, I encountered wearable devices and thought they might be applicable to an educational environment. It is true that expensive devices are more accurate. However, considering the possibilities for application in education and daily life as well as the potential for spread, wearable devices should be worth using even if the accuracy is somewhat lower.

◆: How do you make use of wearable devices?

Prof. Motoyoshi: We use the devices to measure the heartbeat 24 hours a day. The mental state can be objectively detected from the accumulated data. For example, the data can indicate an uplifting feeling during a storytelling session. By combining the measured figures with observations, we should be able to understand children's psychological processes more deeply than ever before and evaluate the educational effects. Recently, applications that display sleep conditions and stress levels based on heartbeat and activity status have been released. I believe these kinds of devices will enable more objective evaluations.
  Above all, we assume that wearable devices won’t burden children and will be easily accepted because they are so small. Wearable devices can also be utilized by adults with intellectual disabilities. Learning about their own fatigue and sleep status from the measurement results should help lead to independent daily life management. To manage daily life using data, education such as self-reliance activities is certainly indispensable.
  Although wearable devices are widely adopted, not many people think about use by people with disabilities. Our research will greatly expand future possibilities. I hope to report various application examples.

Use constructive criticism to your advantage

◆: Please give a message to our students!

Prof. Motoyoshi: I often tell students to “look for the positive even in harsh feedback.” When I make critical comments during my students’ research presentations, I try to use positive words such as “it will be easier to understand if you improve this point.” The goal is not to be overly polite or to say bland things. It's about changing everything into positive energy.
  I also tell students that the person who raises the most painful questions is the person who has the strongest interest and deepest understanding of their research. Those who do not understand deeply tend not to say anything useful. Stabbing remarks, although painful, can motivate you to develop yourself. I want you to be a person who can grow from any feedback.