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Tech directors play an integral part in education, and telepresence robots are one way tech directors can help ensure continuity of learning.

3 ways telepresence robots are impacting learning

Tech directors play an integral part in education, and telepresence robots are one way tech directors can help ensure continuity of learning

Edtech is having a renaissance, driven by necessity. Ten years ago it was not commonplace to see a Technology Director on staff at an elementary school, let alone a Technology Integration Specialist. Times are changing. The global pandemic has created an immediate need for better edtech solutions in our schools due to increased awareness around ensuring the health and wellness of students and staff. 

Technology teams in schools are working with edtech companies to bring cutting-edge technology into the classroom, providing real-time solutions to long-term problems. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during 2013–2015, 3.9 percent of boys and 4.3 percent of girls missed more than 10 school days in 12 months because of illness or injury. Traditional tutoring only brings these students 4-5 hours of home instruction, whereas telepresence can provide these same children with 30-40 hours of classroom instruction. Advancements in edtech are helping kids stay connected at school, even during these uncertain times.

Modernizing the Classroom

At the beginning of the pandemic, the majority of children hadn’t participated in a virtual classroom experience. Signing into a virtual classroom was unheard of. Many didn’t have proper internet access or even a tablet or other device with which to get online. Now, many children are experts at virtual technology. Schools are providing devices to access classroom material from home, and many have immediate remote plans in place that can take them from in-person to virtual almost immediately. 

Times have changed, and school districts are changing with them. The pandemic quickly reminded us all that face-to-face interactions are an important piece of connecting. Losing that aspect of interactions took its toll on many during the pandemic, but this is a much longer problem than just the last two years. Immunocompromised children have been dealing with the less positive side of virtual learning well before the pandemic came along. 

Not only do children face academic underachievement if they miss school, but friendships are also disrupted and many suffer from increased anxiety or even become vulnerable to other stressors or secondary illnesses. Telepresence robots are offering real-time solutions to these types of problems and having a profoundly positive impact on these children, thanks to tech companies who are working with schools to make distance learning successful.

Creative Solutions

Telepresence robots are being used in a multitude of ways to improve the learning experience and modernize the classroom, such as:

  1. Creating community and inclusivity. Historically, immunocompromised children had very few options when it came to being physically present in the classroom. After Covid, for many of these children, it became impossible. However, telepresence robots allow a student to drive their own robot in the classroom so they can virtually attend class from home while feeling like they have a physical presence within the classroom and school community. The robots can move for them, turn to look at people coming in, and even switch classrooms at the bell with their classmates. Robots make remote learning an integrated learning experience for the children, helping them to keep up academically and socially.
  1. Bringing the outside world in. Robots inside the classroom allow for experts in their fields, and the world around, to actively interact with students in a classroom. Doing these types of talks through a telepresence robot creates the personal conversation that passive interactions lack while making it feel more like talking to a live person than watching a video.
  1. Going beyond the classroom. Classroom field trips became a difficult proposal during the pandemic. With children unable to even meet for class in person, let alone museums. Educational robots can make that trip for us, broadcasting the experience to the classroom safely and much more personally than a simple video. Similarly, telepresence robots can be brought along on a school trip, allowing students who are unable to attend in-person to be anywhere they want to go, even traveling virtually with their classmates.

Consider this insight from Karen Wright-Balbier, and instructional technology specialist in the El Paso Independent School District’s Information Technology Department:

As an Instructional Technology Specialist, I have used platforms such as Webex, Microsoft Teams, Schoology Conferences, and Zoom to connect students. When our students returned to the classroom, I worried about those with health challenges who would no longer have the option of attending school using these tools. So I tested a telepresence robot with one student whose treatment left him homebound for one week. From the safety of his own home, he controlled the robot himself, driving through the hallway and into the science lab. The class was so excited to see him; it was beautiful to see the teacher welcome him by name. 

The student learned alongside the other kids and the teachers liked that they did not have to adjust or manage several environments at one time. If the student couldn’t see what was being shared, he could use the zoom-in feature on his laptop or drive closer to get a clearer view, moving like any student would in a regular classroom. 

The telepresence robot stands out from the tools our school uses because it gives the user the ability to interact and engage with his/her environment in a way that’s not available through video conferencing. The most exciting thing about my field is how quickly technology is advancing; there will be more and more accessible options available to students to communicate and collaborate with their teachers and peers when language, health concerns or abilities stand in the way. 

The Future of Technology in Classrooms

From virtual learning platforms to telepresence robots, these types of technology integrations are the future of education. As we learned from the pandemic, anything is possible, and technology could once again be the single connecting point between our children and their education. School districts throughout the country have realized that technology integrations aren’t simply a nice-to-have, they are a necessity. 

Tech directors, tech integration specialists, tech assistants – schools are starting to sound quite a bit like tech startups. And this isn’t a bad thing. These types of positions may be somewhat new in our children’s school districts, but administrative teams are vetting new technology in much the same way as a tech startup would. Schools now need to be as prepared as businesses to send the work home, making cutting-edge technology a necessity to keep kids connected.

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