virtual inclusion

Virtual inclusion helps this district commit to all students–no matter what

The eSchool Media and Xirrus Innovate to Educate Grand Prize Winner offers lessons learned from a virtual inclusion pilot

Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all education. Today, forward-thinking school leaders know that leveraging powerful learning technology can help all students excel and learn to work collaboratively with peers–even if that student is homebound due to chronic illness.

In Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), a team of educators worked to secure telepresence robots for sick and homebound students after seeing the robots demonstrated at a conference. By turning to virtual inclusion, they hoped homebound students would feel more engaged in both their learning and their social relationships at school.

Traditionally, sick and homebound students in AACPS learn independently with the help of a home and hospital teacher, who meets with them approximately six hours a week. But this can be lonely and isolating, because students don’t have the opportunity to talk and collaborate with their classmates. They also can’t participate in extracurricular activities such as clubs.

This is where the Double robot from Double Robotics became invaluable for a high school student battling cancer, AACPS educators said.

“Using the robot allows a student to interact with their classmates and be included in activities that learning in isolation at home cannot provide,” said Stephanie Kelly, the district’s senior manager for instructional technology.

And because the robot helps students interact with peers, it benefits their mental and emotional well-being and makes the healing process less isolated.

“Not being able to come to class, going through treatment, and having to be in quarantine is a challenging and lonely process,” Kelly said. “With the help of a robot, the student can engage with their class through their computer. Whether they are at home or in the hospital, they can participate with their teacher and classmates and feel a part of the school environment.”

Piloting the robot

Along with Mary Tillar, the district’s assistant superintendent for Advanced Studies and Programs Kelly attended a state-level meeting for assistant superintendents and watched as robotics company Double Robotics demonstrated how the company’s telepresence robot was piloted to help homebound students have a more personalized distance learning experience.

(Next page: Ensuring everything was in place for the pilot’s success)

Laura Ascione

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