Future Technology

Innovative Telepresence Robots Can Help Chronically Ill Students Participate Fully in School

Innovative Telepresence Robot Can Help Chronically Ill Students Participate Fully in School
PHOTOGRAPH: UCI School of Education | Photo shows a child testing a telepresence robot proposed by a research team from the University of California, Irvine’s School of Education, which offers educational and social benefits of daily participation in the classroom.

Innovative robotic technologies have been devised to simplify various tasks for many people, and have found increasing use in the healthcare field. Now comes telepresence robots that can aid chronically ill children in their learning.

In their initial study on the virtual inclusion of kids who are homebound and/or chronically ill via telepresence robots in the classroom, Veronica Newhart, a Ph.D. student in, and Mark Warschauer, a professor of education and informatics at the University of California, Irvine’s School of Education, presented interesting details. Since students with chronic illness miss out on a lot of school days, they studied how a telepresence robot could allow the learners to have real-time participation in school.

Since modern product technologies are often within the reach only of well-off people, the research team sought to explore a level playing field whereby students received robotic guidance regardless of income level and family background. The typical alternative for remote learners was to have a tutor visit them, but the downside is that it tends to gloss over the social component offered by daily classroom participation of students.

How the Telepresence Robot Works

The child will operate the robot from home. A rolling camera-speaker-screen will be set in motion to enable the child to engage in small group discussions.

The learner may also travel from classroom to classroom, join friends at recess or lunch break and even attend after-school and extracurricular activities, such as choir or Boy Scouts. Another study (published in the American Journal of Community Psychology) found that after-school programs which aim to enhance personal and social skills of children and adolescents have been linked to positive social behavior.

Telepresence robots offer a dual benefit then – facilitating learning and reinforcing good social behavior with the passage of time.  It can be noted that current robotic technologies are fast reaching that stage of development where research scientists are devising systems that can make decisions with respect to human behavior and read human behavior just like real people.

Barriers to Be Hurdled

For now, while studies in digital inclusion affirm that while most learners have become receptive to new technology (and key decision-makers know that homebound children with disabilities or chronic illnesses have rights and freedoms on an equal basis with normally functioning children), there are other barriers that still need to be hurdled.

There are school districts that would not allow the use of a telepresence robot. Funding is also limited. Yet given the opportunity created by the modern technology suited for chronically ill or disabled children to stay connected to their classmates and minimize wide learning gaps, such assistive robotic tech may be worth a closer look, especially by communities that can come together for children who can reap the educational and social benefits.


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