Telepresence Robots Bring Teachers into Classrooms


Soon teachers around the world could be able to hold lectures and help children with their schoolwork without needing to actually be in a classroom.

The Nexus Academy in Columbus, Ohio has incorporated a new $6,000 Telepresence robot into their school that allows faculty to interact with their students from various other locations across the country. The robot stands 4 feet tall and features a screen that plays live videos of the teacher's face.

Also included is a camera that allows the teacher to see what is happening within the classroom. The robot even carries the capability to allow the teacher to move throughout the room and watch students as they work, writes Richard Gray for The Daily Mail.

Social studies teacher Thomas Fetch is one of the first to test out the robot and is using the technology from his home in Arizona, 1,600 miles away.

Previously, the school had asked remote teachers to use video calling and conference call style lessons.

"I like driving it around and feeling like I am in the school. It's neat to feel like I am part of the classroom. I was so far away, but with the help of this body I could walk around the building," said Fetch.

The 120 students in the school appear to agree, saying being able to see and interact with their teacher made the class more personable, reports Nichole Dobo for Slate.

Student Thomas Hatch said, "Seeing the teacher's face, and they would be there, showing up in the room – it felt more personal than the just a screen."

The school is part of a network of seven schools within Ohio, Michigan and Indiana that makes use of teachers both in-house and remotely. Each school now has one robot.

According to Fetch, the robots are not without flaws. There are times when they run into walls or doors. He said this is due to issues with the robot's depth perception and peripheral vision that Fetch said are not "that great."

This means that students who may have been caught in the act of misbehaving with a teacher physically in the room could get away with it with a robot in the room.

These are not the only schools to be using robots in the classroom. Researchers in Switzerland have created a CoWriter robot, which helps students build confidence in their writing skills. Students are asked to teach the 23-inch tall robot to write by placing magnetic letters on a table and asking the robot to write the word. The robot will then purposely write the word poorly, at which point the student must write the word correctly underneath.

"We believe that after a few hours of being the teacher, their barriers may vanish and they may recover enough self-esteem to move forward," says Séverin Lemaignan, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne. "Often it's a matter not that they're bad at writing, but that they feel they are bad at writing."

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