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Robot system puts long-distance students inside classrooms

June 15, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A southeast Nebraska community college is using robots to put long-distance students inside the classrooms.

Four of the machines are based at the Lincoln campus of Southeast Community College, and one is available at the college district’s Beatrice and Milford locations.

The college district has invested for years in distance-learning technology that allows students on one campus to plug into a course offered on another. Those opportunities expanded with the advent of the college’s six learning centers.

But the teleconferencing equipment can sometimes be “the incorrect tool for what the instructor is trying to accomplish,” Christopher Cummins, the college’s director of instruction technology, told the Lincoln Journal Star .

Robots give students chances to interact in classes, join small-group activities or linger behind after classes to ask follow-up questions, he said.

Students establish communication through a tablet computer mounted on a self-balancing chassis on wheels. They can then navigate the class locations as robotic avatars, guided by personal digital devices. Cameras, microphones and speakers on the robots let the long-distance students talk to students in the classrooms and to instructors.

Audra Podliska, a district resource development specialist, said the robots are intended to help students living in rural areas connect with college offerings that would otherwise be out of reach.

“This is the closest thing to being in a classroom without being in a classroom,” Podliska said.

The district bought its first robot for use in the health sciences department before receiving a $120,582 Rural Utilities Service grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant let the district purchase five more robots.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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