Teaching with a telepresence robot
What happens when you’re teaching and need to be away from campus during one or more class sessions? Cancel the class? Have a guest lecturer? Use Zoom or Skype to be a talking head on-screen in the classroom? What if your course schedule is so full that you need those sessions to accomplish everything on the syllabus?
Professor Mark Lauer ran into this exact situation in spring 2015, when he needed to be away from campus for two meetings of his Elementary German 102 course in mid-March. Rather than using traditional videoconferencing tools like Zoom or Skype to bring him to the classroom, Lauer partnered with Library, Information and Technology Services (LITS) to teach his classes with an experimental telepresence robot from Double Robotics. The robot consists of an iPad attached to a rolling base (like a Segway). The driver of the robot logs in using a web browser or iPad, takes control of the robot, and drives it around, speaking and interacting with people as though in the room.
The robot was introduced to the German class a few weeks ahead of time, so the students wouldn’t be taken off-guard on the days the professor was using it. From just down the hall, Lauer logged in and drove the robot - and himself! - into the classroom for a few minutes at the beginning of class. The students laughed, said hello to him, and then he arrived in person to teach class as normal. The next time the students encountered robotic Professor Lauer, he was across the country, logging in with his iPad, and collaborating with his student teaching assistant on-site in South Hadley (she helped with projection of his powerpoint and writing on the whiteboard). In Lauer’s words, “After the first laughs, use of the robot turned into a 'non-event,' which was our aim. The robot became 'natural' – and students focused on the class and the material.” A post-class survey indicated that the students were enthusiastic about their professor’s use of the robot for this kind of situation.