Robots in the classroom? What about robots controlled by a virtually remote student through video conferencing? This is called “Robotic telepresence.” The true question should be around how the various contexts of implementing robotic telepresence can impact the student’s experience.
A very interesting phrase Michigan State University used in a design study just released in the latest issue of International Journal of Designs in Learning caught my attention. They frame one of the best outcomes of the study around “discernible attention.” Giving the remote student the ability to control their presence in the classroom increases interaction with their instructor and fellow students.
Michigan State University and the CEPSE/COE Design Studio team, John Bell, William Cain, Amy Peterson, and Cui Cheng, share their findings from an extensive study covering the integration of robotic telepresence devices in synchronous learning environments.
The team examines taking online students off of fixed, wall-based monitors and putting them in among those physically present. Using the Kubi desktop and rollabout Double robots completely change the dynamics of the blended or hybrid learning environment.
The design study centers around various scenarios of a blended or hybrid classroom. They take a look at what type of experience is provided to students who attend class through one of two modalities; face-to-face or online through video conference.
The focus then turns to the online students experiences with and without robotic telepresence and even more specifically the difference in types of robots used.
In the study you will find the results as they compare and contrast the following modalities:
According to the study, “Students also continued to be enthusiastic about the “discernible attention” benefit of 2.5D Telepresence. That is when the instructor turned to look at a student, that student was certain that he or she was the focus of the instructor’s attention. We believe that awareness of attention was an important contributor to the students’ report that their relationship with the instructor grew more with the use of 2.5D Telepresence than with the 2D approach.” Discernible attention is a valuable finding. In a traditional video conferencing setup, the students are stuck on a monitor on the wall. Held in a fix position without a way to physically give and acknowledge attention in the classroom, , students can often be “forgotten” by the instructor. Being present in class on a robot changes the dynamics of the class.
When the remote student makes the robot move, as is the case with the Kubi (which means neck in Japanese), the turning of their head on the device can give and direct non-disruptive attention to both the instructor and other students.
For example, they can easily let the instructor know they want to interject or that they agree/disagree. Students can also adjust their Kubi to simply remind others of their presence and thus draws their attention. Sitting among the other students enables them to turn and easily participate in classroom discussions. This type of “discernible attention” creates a much more engaging environment for all.
It is interesting to see how each context or scenario the design team covered plays out as they share successes and failures with each implementation.
For example, simple things like the difference between how the tablet is set (in either portrait or landscape) can impact learning. In the study, the Kubi, which allows for landscape display, provides a wider viewing range and thus makes students more comfortable than the narrower more constraining view of a portrait layout on the Double.
Michigan State University (MSU) has done an outstanding job with this study. Take a moment to read of the results in their whitepaper, From 2D to Kubi to Doubles: Designs for Student Telepresence in Synchronous Hybrid Classrooms.
It’s exciting to see how robotic telepresence is being applied to teaching and learning, whether integrating the technology to solve challenges in online learning in order to increase accessibility for different student populations, drive course completion or to better serve remote students by giving the virtual student a “controllable presence” in a shared learning environment.
Thank you to Michigan State University for sharing the results of a well-defined design study. Read about the study IJDL | 2016 | Volume 7, Issue 3 | Pages 19-33.