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A telepresence robot to materialize virtual learning

Virtual education as we know it relies heavily on videoconferencing software. But now an original project carried out in American schools wants to push virtual education further by using a prototype of a telepresence robot in the classes.

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Virtual education as we know it relies heavily on videoconferencing software. But now an original project carried out in American schools wants to push virtual education further by using a prototype of a telepresence robot in the classes.

TheNexus Academy, located in Columbus, Ohio, is a high school based on blended learning, a method combining traditional education and virtual education. Some virtual courses are offered synchronously, usually using video conferencing software, and are facilitated by teachers located in different parts of the country. Since last year, a robot prototype is used with a view to perfecting virtual synchronous teaching. Built on wheels and measuring 1.2 meters, the robot is mobile, equipped with a camera and remotely controlled by the teacher. The latter can move the device around the classroom, for example between the students' desks, which allows him in particular to observe their work and to comment on it. At the other end, a camera films the teacher's face and reproduces the image on a small screen placed on the robot.

Although some students who participated in the project were skeptical and critical, others believe that the robot would energize virtual education and make it less impersonal. On the side of education stakeholders, it is believed that in addition to being useful for synchronous distance education, this type of device could potentially be beneficial for the education of people with reduced mobility. Aspects of the robot still need to be improved, in particular its sometimes difficult handling.

The device costs 6000 $ and involves annual maintenance costs of around 1000 $. Satisfied with the results of the trial conducted at Nexus Academy last year and at a school the previous year, seven US schools using blended learning, located in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, now have such robot.

Exactly, this same robot prototype is currently in use to this end in Quebec. At the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board, it is used to help a high school student in remission from cancer to follow her courses remotely.

What do you think about this idea? Does it actually make the concept of distance education less “impersonal”?

To learn more, read the article " Is the future of education teacher-robots bumping into walls?“, By Nichole Dobo.

About the Author

Dominic Leblanc
Dominic leblanc
A graduate in sociology, Dominic Leblanc is an educational advisor in the Programs and Educational Development Department of the Cégep régional de Lanaudière in L'Assomption.

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