BLaST IU 17: Homebound Students Get a Virtual Presence in Classroom

Abbi was so excited to join her classmates one morning that she told her parents, “Get me up. I have to get dressed. I have school." Another day, Abbi was proud to say that she had met the new principal, just as her sisters had.

The fact that Abbi, who can’t be exposed to germs, did all this without leaving her home is thanks to a “Double Robotics telepresence robot.” It might sound like something from a 1950s sci-fi movie, but for students in BLaST Intermediate Unit 17, it’s a real-life device that connects homebound students to their classrooms.

The technology links iPads placed in the classroom and the student’s home to allow real-time video and voice communication. The classroom iPad is attached to a robot that the student can control, perhaps zooming in on the teacher, shifting with the classroom, and even joining group activities.

In one case, a high school student with multiple disabilities kept real-time pace with her schoolwork, with less need for tutors and in-home instruction. A 14-year-old boy undergoing cancer treatments “was excited to chat with his friends,” says Dana Vermilya, IU 17 assistive technology consultant. “Just having that peer interaction is huge.”

In Wyalusing School District, a kindergartner with medical needs named Abbi has joined her class since the school year began. One day, after Abbi had missed class due to a technical glitch, her classmates “were excited to have her back,” says Vermilya.

“The students in the classrooms seem to be very receptive,” says Vermilya. “I think they think the technology is exciting, and it becomes part of their normal routine.”

Districts can rent the technology at a reasonable rate, and teachers need only about 30 minutes of training. Students “can ask questions that they’re having right then, without having to wait for the answers, or they can hear if somebody else has the same question they have,” says Vermilya.

“There’s a lot to be said for seeing the lesson that’s taught. For some of us, it’s hard to learn from reading the book and trying to figure out the lesson on your own. Double Robotics helps students keep their spirits up and stay engaged, no matter what else is going on in their lives.”
 

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