A new technology enables both interactive communication and observation capabilities with a telepresence robot platform
Thanks to recent strides in robotics and mobile devices, telepresence technology has opened up numerous possibilities at both the K-12 and higher-ed levels, where remote observation and communication can come in handy.
Educators and students are exploring a new way to remotely observe and interact with colleagues and peers with a telepresence robot that enables face-to-face communication.
Using Kubi, from Revolve Robotics, users download an app onto a tablet and connect the tablet to Kubi using Bluetooth. The tablet sits on a robotic platform. Other users can then “navigate” to Kubi with a browser. This lets them control the robot remotely over the web, including moving it for face-to-face communication.
At the K-12 level, Kubi is proving useful for observation in special education classrooms. Often, having a new person in the classroom will change students’ behavior. For rural schools, the technology can also help beam in experts and professionals that otherwise couldn’t observe or speak with students.
Aaron Fischer, an assistant professor at the University of Utah who is researching how using telepresence robots such as Kubi can help connect professionals with special needs students, said trying to get school psychologists into schools in hard-to-reach places or rural areas is often highly challening. This is where Kubi comes in.
Fischer and his colleagues discovered Kubi when they looked into video conferencing systems to see if the approach proved effective in observing student behavior and helping teachers address the behavior.
“Kubi added more versatility,” Fischer said. “In these hard-to-reach places, they don’t always have constant access to a school psychologist, or one might be assigned to multiple schools.”
Next page: Making it a regular part of the classroom
Any new visitor or tool in a classroom will attract student attention, but Kubi’s ability to become a “regular” part of the classroom helps make observations more accurate because students are not altering their behavior due to seeing someone new in the classroom, he said.
“The benefit of this technology is we can black out our screen, if we move it around [students] may be aware of that, but because we can look around the classroom, we’re able to observe where the student is situated, how much attention groups are getting, and things like that,” he said.
“We’ve seen real success this year–we’re in seven different classrooms in southern Utah and are able to provide really high-quality [feedback],” he added.
“It allows this ‘wow’ interaction because you can look all around,” said Jeff Goldsmith, VP of marketing for Revolve Robotics.
Goldsmith said the uses extend well beyond classroom observation and teacher coaching — the robot can also help students who are sick or otherwise home-bound attend classes, serve as a resource for class guest lectures or school board meetings when members are spread across large geographical distances, and can be used in blended learning environments.
At Oral Roberts University (ORU), senior students must complete and present a research project to students, faculty and staff as a graduation requirement.
When it came time for Cara Philip, an ORU student, to present her project, she was studying abroad at Oxford University and was unable to physically travel back to present her project.
Using Kubi, she was able to join her class twice — first, to listen to a presentation given by another student, and the second, to give her own presentation.
“I found it really easy to use the technology,” said Philip. “They sent me a code, I clicked the link, and entered the classroom instantly. I’m overseas and don’t have time to download programs and other things technology can demand of you.”
Kubi’s individual control capabilities are appealing, she said.
“I really liked how I was in control of it,” Philip said. “I could see my classmates and change my direction. I thought that gave it a greater dimension than Skype or FaceTime would.”
“I can’t believe there’s technology in such a way that one person in one timezone can stream in and listen to someone in a completely different timezone,” said Dr. Joel Gaikwad, chair of the university’s Biology and Chemistry Department.
“When she was presenting, we put the robot in the front of the class. She was talking, and we could hear her reasonably well–we made sure the class was completely silent. If someone asked her a question, it was nice that she could turn the screen and move in the direction of the person who asked the question,” he said. “It made the presentation more animated and live, as if there’s a live person and the screen is moving.”
Gaikwad said an interactive technology such as Kubi has many potential applications in the classroom.
“I think your learning has to be interactive,” he said. “Facebook and email are OK, but they’re not in real time. This is in real time, and I think that’s just fantastic.”