Telepresence Robots: Connecting Online Students & Teachers

In honor of Digital Learning Day, I wanted to share a story of robots in the classroom that are helping to connect students and teachers through digital and face-to-face learning.

What if remote teachers had an opportunity to be part of a blended learning classroom? What if robots of the future weren’t in the future anymore? Well guess what, they’re not, and schools around the country are using telepresence robots to help keep kids and teachers connected during brick and mortar learning experiences.

Nexus Academy in Columbus uses a robot students have named “Bishop” to help connect a teacher in Grand Rapids to the students that attend their school. Students at the academy learn from a virtual curriculum and learn math and english on site. The flex model used at Nexus means students spend part of their time at home and about 4 hours a day, 4 days a week at the school.

Bishop helps Nexus teacher Michael Bonkowski stay connected while working remote. The robot can move anywhere around the school so Bonkowski stays mobile and can find students no matter where they’re at on site. At first students were a bit intimidated by Bishop, but adjusted quickly.

Flipping the script. These robots aren’t only used for teachers, they’re also used for students. Lyndon Baty, a student in Knox City, Texas is unable to physically attend classes at school due to illness. But thanks to a VGO robot, he’s able to be in class with his peers. The robot allows Lyndon to walk around the hallways, collaborate with fellow students, interact with his teachers and actively participate in class — all from a remote location.

Lyndon controls the robot from his home computer and says it has made a big difference in his learning experience. It’s also given him the ability to develop relationships with his classmates and allows him to engage socially. “It’s absolutely amazing. I would have never thought when I was sick that I would ever have any interaction, much less this kind. It is just like I am there in the classroom,” Lyndon said.

Education specialist Mike Campbell at Knox City Independent School District said, “This is one of those occasions where we see a dramatic improvement of a student who wasn’t able to go to school. But now as a result of the technology, Lyndon has been able to attend class. That’s something that most of us take for granted.”

While these robots could never replace teachers, or substitute for classroom instruction, they’re an important tool for schools and families whose circumstances make physical presence in the classroom difficult. Robots can also help leverage superstar teachers and help them be in more classrooms, in more places at the same time.

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Jessica Slusser

Jessica is the Senior Director of Impact at Getting Smart. She leads business development and growth of advocacy campaigns, advisory services, product development, marketing, and Getting Smart's blog. As part of her role, Jessica also oversees team events, conferences, and speaking engagements.

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