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Robots offer ‘telepresence’ in classrooms of the future

Welcome to the classroom of the future, where “robots” could outnumber students. With remote learning on the up, it was only a matter of time before telepresence robots took over the teaching.  

With distance (online) education becoming more desired by students, USQ Head of School (Teacher Education and Early Childhood) Professor Stephen Winn said it was only a matter of time before technologies such as telepresence robots are completely integrated into classrooms to solve challenges in online engagement. 

Professor Winn recently road-tested a Kubi Telepresence Robot with students in remote and rural areas, as part of the USQ Technology Demonstrator Project. A further demonstration will take place at the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association State Conference at St George in June.

Kubi is a device that combines the video-conferencing features of a tablet with a robotic cradle that allows the user to look around using pan and tilt controls enabling remote and virtual interaction with people.

 Professor Winn said the telepresence “robot” helped enhance remote learners’ educational experience through a high-level of connectivity and engagement.

 “It shows how as a regional university we’re able to bridge that distance gap using devices that provide teaching staff an opportunity to interact with students through peer-to-peer learning like never before,” Professor Winn said.

 “Simply, the Kubi Telepresence Robot can be that virtual student, at the desk, in the classroom.

“Because it’s portable and uses wifi, the Kubi can be used by not only teaching staff, professional staff and students, but anyone for a variety of purposes and benefits.

“For example, children who have health issues or long-term conditions can be away from their classroom and friends, which could have long-term implications to their learning and social engagement with friends and peers.

“By using the Kubi, that child could be connected back to their class, be able to engage in those lessons and still feel part of the school environment, which is quite beneficial to their recovery and psychological wellbeing.”

Professor Ken Udas (Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic Services) said the use of Kubi Telepresence Robots is one of a number of successful Technology Demonstrator projects looking into the classroom of the future.

Other exciting technologies to be trialled soon include VFairs, ClaroRead and iSee.

“VFairs is a virtual events platform we’re hoping to use at our next Career Fair, while ClaroRead is an assistive technology application that supports reading and writing, as well as text-to-speech software for students with disabilities,” Professor Udas said.

 “Technology Demonstrators has also used the iSee technology to build a 3D version of the Toowoomba Supreme Court to allow students studying at a distance participate in Moot Court proceedings in an interactive virtual environment.”

 USQ Technology Demonstrators is an initiative that commenced in 2015 to assist academics discover and explore the capability and potential of innovative technologies in a learning and teaching context.

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