Jim decided on KUBI for his district program due to KUBI’s portability, versatility and comparatively low cost as a distance learning tool
Llano Independent School District in Llano, Texas is using the KUBI telepresence robot for a new distance-learning program they believe will help lower costs and improve the quality of education for homebound students. Using interactive telepresence, students will be able to attend a full schedule of classes from their homes, allowing them the same educational opportunity as their peers and saving money for the school district. Public Schools are required to provide homebound students with access to classes, and without telepresence this can become time and resource consuming.
School Districts are required to create a plan to provide educational services to a child that cannot attend school. State law states the student should receive a minimum of four hours per week, one hour per core course. However, depending on the circumstances, such as the difficulty of the courses, the student may need more than the minimum. Typically a teacher will visit the student at home to bring assignments and help with the coursework. Depending on availability of teachers the visits can occur outside normal school hours, and Llano School District must compensate the teachers. Because Llano County is very large students may live over 25 miles away from the school, resulting in significant travel times for teachers. The system of home visits works ok but the student’s education can suffer under this system, as they are forced to keep pace with the class, but don’t receive the same amount of instruction and interactivity as their peers.
Llano ISD wanted to do more for the students but it is difficult to improve and expand services in the cost cutting environment that is occurring in Texas. Jim Beasley, the Technology Director for Llano School District has lead the evaluation of different remote access technologies, including the KUBI telepresence robot for homebound students during the current school year. Jim decided on KUBI for his district program due to KUBI’s portability, versatility and comparatively low cost as a distance learning tool. There are certain requirements a telepresence solution must meet to be effective for remote education.
- Students must be able to clearly see and hear the teacher and the other students in order to follow along with the class.
- It is important that the student can read what is being displayed or written on the whiteboard and/or projector screen at the front of the class.
- Two-way communication is a must, so in addition to being able to hear everything that goes on in the class; the remote student’s comments and questions need to be heard by the class and the teacher.
- The solution must be very simple to set up, easy for both students and teachers to use, and portable enough to be moved quickly between classrooms.
- The system needs to last an entire day without needing to be recharged
- It needs to fit well in the classroom so it does not interfere with the normal classroom.
During the 2013/2014 school year the Llano ISD Technology Department implemented KUBIs at a district High School where two different students participated in classes from home for 6 weeks via telepresence. Each student attended 7 classes per day via KUBI, while a fellow students helped to transport the system between classes.
“This new system is much more popular with the students and the teachers”
In each case, the solution involved a KUBI with an iPad running FaceTime, mounted onto an inexpensive rolling projector cart. “We tried using a roaming telepresence robot which allowed the students to navigate by themselves” said Jim. “We chose to enlist the aid of fellow students to push the cart from class to class because the robots can’t move down the long hallways quickly enough and allowing them to leave class early is disruptive to the lessons. We found the students carrying the telepresence robots down the halls to move faster, save batteries and get through areas with weak wifi coverage that caused the robot to stop”.
The Kubi cart, the students named “RoboHead”, was equipped with an on-board battery to provide ample power for both KUBI and the iPad to run the entire day. The cart also had the additional advantage of a second shelf to hold students’ books and backpacks while they helped push it from room to room. “This new system is much more popular with the students and the teachers” noted Jim.
“If it wouldn’t have been for using KUBI, I would not have passed Calculus”.
At the students’ homes, an iMac was set up to run FaceTime, with KUBI controls loaded in a second browser window. Jim noted that it was necessary to ensure students had a good wireless Internet connection at home so they could see, hear and interact in class uninterrupted. Using this setup, students at home were able to control where they looked, what they heard, who could hear or see them and were also able to take screenshots and record notes. In order to simplify the setup process for both students at home and teachers at the school, the Technology Department created a simple one page set of instructions detailing the setup and connection process.
Homebound students enjoyed being able to look around and interact with their teachers and peers during class. Jim noted, that positioning KUBI about 10 feet from the whiteboard and facing the front of the class seemed to be optimal for very long white boards and it allowed for full classroom viewing and participation. Calculus and Physics were two classes where KUBI made an especially powerful impact. One of the students remarked, “If it wouldn’t have been for using KUBI, I would not have passed Calculus”.
KUBI proved to be a simple and effective telepresence solution that Llano ISD was able to implement on a modest budget. After getting positive results and feedback, Jim hopes to expand the program next year to explore the full potential of telepresence for schools throughout the Llano School district.
In his words, the $499 KUBI paid for itself after just one use considering the costs of paying a teacher to go to a student’s home and the student was able to get more instruction time.
Over the summer, Jim plans to investigate the use of KUBI for several applications, including: IT support for teachers throughout the school district, allowing teachers to remotely access classrooms, enabling guest teachers and lecturers around the world to instruct the class, and allowing students to view and participate in larger school events. Jim also plans to evaluate different video conferencing software options to provide higher quality video and audio on different platforms such as PCs, laptops and tablets. “I was thinking about attending our new building construction meetings this summer using KUBI as well” said Jim.