CRESTLINE – The last time Madison Conrad had to miss several weeks of school following a surgery, she struggled to understand her coursework and missed socializing with her friends.
Things are a little easier this time around, thanks to new technology that allows the Crestline seventh-grader to watch and even participate in her classes while she recuperates.
Conrad is recovering from a scoliosis surgery and is wheelchair-bound, so her mobility is limited and her immune system likely won’t be strong enough to be exposed to the school environment until after Thanksgiving.
In the meantime, Conrad can use any device — a smartphone, computer or tablet — to access Double Robotics software, connect to the classroom via video conference and control a robot. The robot self-balances like a Segway, rolling around the room while holding an iPad that runs the video conferencing app.
Crestline has access to the robot through a grant provided to Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center and North Central State College by the USDA Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine program.
During a family and consumer science class Monday, Conrad listened to instructions from her teacher and then wheeled over to join a small group and work with classmates on a worksheet.
“It’s cool how I’m still there but at home,” Conrad said. “I can still talk to people and still be in class. … I can ask questions about how to do things.”
Conrad uses the robot to raise and lower the iPad so she can see the board better or see over another student’s head. She can pivot to see another student asking a question and then pivot back toward the teacher. She can even take pictures and save screenshots to keep notes of what’s written on the board or to have instant access to worksheets or other assignments.
While a classmate helps move Conrad’s robot from class to class, Conrad greets students and teachers in the hallway.
Principal Keith Strickler said the new robot is a game-changer for students like Conrad.
“What I really like about this is the social aspect. She can continue on with her classes and still talk to her friends virtually and have relationships with all her teachers,” he said.
The robot has academic benefits has well.
“Traditionally, what you would do is you would have a tutor at home who would gather up your work and bring it to you, but you would only have that teacher maybe five hours a week,” he said, adding that the tutor can’t be in every class, so it’s hard for the teacher to bring the student up to speed in every subject.
This is Crestline’s first time using the device, so the district is still working through some bugs. Strickler had to restart the iPad on Monday when the program wasn’t allowing Conrad to move the machine using her keyboard arrows as usual. But overall, he said, the device has been a great help to Conrad and her teachers.
In addition to schools like Crestline that were part of the grant, other schools have access to the robots as rentals from Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center.
Madison High School started using one of the rental robots this week for two injured students who are unable to use the stairs and can’t get to some second-floor classrooms not accessible by elevator.
At Madison, the students log into Double Robotics through Chromebooks in the library, guidance counselor Alana Sigg said. The robots are particularly useful in subjects like foreign language, in which it is difficult for students to learn solely by reading a text, Sigg said.
Sigg said she sees possibilities for the school to use the robots to provide access for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend field trips or assemblies. She even envisions the robots could be taken offsite to provide virtual field trips for entire classes.
“I think the opportunities are really going to open up to us once everyone feels comfortable with it,” Sigg said.
The grant-funded devices were originally purchased to help students access College Credit Plus courses, Mid-Ohio ESC Director of Education Amanda Mahon said, adding that the grant writing process predated her time at the ESC.
“We are happy to look at opportunities to get these out into the schools so they can be used for learning,” she said.