Todays article comes from The Washington Post and Jennifer Davis. She explores technology and robots introduced during the pandemic and the impact on K-12 education. You’ll either love it or it will scare the …….. out of you.
A robot is also helping Amy Kleine’s 7-year-old son, Zach, stay connected to teachers and other students at St. Rose School in Longview, Wash., while he attends remotely to minimize the virus risk to his family members.
“At this point, he’s been away from the public for the majority of eight months now,” Kleine says. “He hasn’t spent time with many kids, other than his cousins and a few friends here and there. So it’s really important for me to continue to gauge his happiness. As a mom, I see this robot as a game-changer in terms of social interaction. It changes everything for the better.”
Zach uses a robot called a Swivl; Thomas uses one called an Owl. Both are types of telepresence robots or smart videoconferencing computers with microphones and speakers attached. Some sit on desks. Others stand in the classroom or even roll around. This technology has become increasingly popular in K-12 classrooms during the pandemic, thanks to hybrid or blended learning models, where some students are in the classroom while others watch from home. The big difference between a robot and a conventional camera is that the robot follows action and sound — spinning as much as 360 degrees — so students at home can see more than a static shot of the classroom.
“We have found that it is much more engaging than a standard camera,” says Joe Peacock, director of technology at Burgundy Farm, which invested in the equipment for the first time this summer and now has Owls in 11 classrooms. “It feels more natural. It’s like you are sitting in the classroom and turning your head to hear who is talking.”
“The kids in class interact very naturally with the children at home, and I do think the kids at home appreciate it,” he adds. “It helps them connect and feel more like they are there.”
There are several telepresence robots on the market. Pre-pandemic, they were most commonly used in higher education and for teacher training. But manufacturers of these devices say that starting in June, sales to K-12 schools skyrocketed. Kristin Celano, a spokeswoman for Owl Labs, says the company has seen a 13,000 percent increase in usage of its device by K-12 education customers since the onset of the pandemic. Another manufacturer — Xandex — says there have been some months where sales of its Kubi are up 100 percent over the same time last year, and on average, it has seen more than 50 percent growth as a result of the pandemic.
“We had to figure something out,” she says. “We had feedback after the spring about what was and wasn’t working, and overwhelmingly, parents said: ‘Our kids aren’t getting any engagement. We need more interaction.’ ” So her school bought a Swivl robot for each of the K-8 classrooms, plus music and physical education. “It’s the bridge between the kids who want to be at school and the kids who want to be at home,” Silva says.
A number of schools across the country are trying the robotic technology out for the first time, including Sheridan School in D.C.; Oakwood School in Annandale, Va.; and Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md. Stone Ridge School invested in 80 Owls for this school year, so students in every grade — K-12 — could use the technology. “We worry about kids at home feeling isolated,” says Connie Shaffer Mitchell, Stone Ridge’s director of marketing and communications. “The Owl helps them feel they are part of a community, and that’s something any independent school prides itself on.”
River Forest Public School District 90 in Illinois did not use these robots before the pandemic, but it now has 110 Swivls in use across three schools and in 40 instructional spaces, primarily middle schools.
The robots move in a variety of ways. Some come with tracking devices that teachers wear around their neck or leave in parts of the classroom, so the robot knows which direction to point its camera. Others follow the loudest sounds in the room. And the Kubi is controlled by students at home through a widget downloaded to a device such as an iPad or laptop. That’s what Pari Nanavaty, a junior at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in Suffolk, Va., now uses for one of her classes.
Pari is the only student using the Kubi in her class; the manufacturer says that’s ideal to avoid a battle for control of the device, but it says that with planning, the device can be shared among students and also works well when shared among cohorts attending class on different days.
As strange as it sounds, parents say that, over time, they’ve discovered that the robots are also decreasing the feelings of isolation and remoteness their children feel. “It’s more immersive. He’s been raving about it. It makes him happy,” Engel says of her son Thomas. “The teacher sometimes lets him stay on during break time to talk with friends. It’s not the full experience of being there, but it’s definitely a lot better than a normal camera.”
Adds Rajiv Nanavaty, Pari’s father: “For parents like my wife and I, who feel very strongly that virtual is the way to go, this is a great way to accommodate us and still keep students involved. Anything that makes things easier for students is great. I think we are in this for the long haul, and the more we integrate technology and the sooner we do it, the more we are serving students and keeping the rest of the community safe.”
Parents in the schools that are using the robots say they’re grateful for this new technology, and they believe the robots are also teaching students valuable lessons about resilience.
“There’s a larger lesson being taught here about adapting and pivoting and trying new things when the going gets tough,” Nanavaty says.