MSUToday
Published: Oct. 11, 2018

Robot technology helps elementary student attend class

Contact(s): Lauren Knapp College of Education office: 517-353-3429 laeknapp@msu.edu

Thanks to Conni Crittenden, a Michigan State University alumna and teacher at Williamston Community Schools, a student who often misses class due to a medical issue is learning via a robot remotely. 

“The more I saw the capability of the robots, the more I wondered: Why wouldn’t we do this?” said Crittenden, who has been an educator for more than 40 years. “This was a really exciting opportunity.”

Crittenden brought the idea to the student’s parents and the leaders of her school, and then reached out to MSU.

The partnership between MSU and Williamston Community Schools — the first such collaboration for an elementary school in the state — utilizes a Beam robot, on loan from Suitable Technologies. 

When unable to attend school in person, the student can log in from home using a free app from any smartphone, laptop or desktop device. Controlled by the student, the robot can move throughout the classroom on two wheels, allowing the student greater freedom and flexibility in interacting with lessons and classmates.

“The goal is to provide this student with greater presence in class than they have been able to have,” said John Bell, MSU educational technology professor, director of the Design Studio and a key collaborator on the project.

The Design Studio has incorporated the robots in a variety of capacities during a two-year partnership with Suitable Technologies

“To this point, all of our research has been with undergraduate and graduate students and courses,” Bell said. “This is a fascinating opportunity to learn more about what happens with younger students, while also bringing real benefit to students today.”

Bell is leading a six-month case study on how the Beam robot not only impacts the student’s learning, but also how it impacts the whole class. Working with the Synchronous Hybrid Learning and Teaching Experiences graduate student group, they hope to answer: What is the novelty effect for the class and how long does it last? What is different, better or worse for the student compared to other methods, such as FaceTime? Are effects on social presence similar to what they have found with older individuals?

“I think my students are excited to be learning about this technology, learning how to adapt to this,” said Crittenden, who adjusted her classroom layout to create wider aisles in which the robot can move more easily. “I’m so glad our administration is open to this opportunity and willing to explore its benefits.”

Thanks to Conni Crittenden, an MSU alumna and teacher at Williamston Community Schools, a student who often misses class due to a medical issue is learning via a robot remotely.

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