Alton Edwards attended classes at Causey Middle School on Monday — from his hospital bed.
Through a partnership between Mobile County Public Schools and University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital, hospitalized students like Edwards can attend class remotely through the use of an interactive robot.
The robot, designed by Double Robotics, looks somewhat like a Segway, with a rolling base and a vertical mast that holds a tablet. A student can control the robot from his or her hospital bed with another tablet, navigating around or between classrooms, adjusting the height of the tablet, and interacting with teachers and classmates through the cameras on the tablets.
“They can actually participate in school in their classes in order to minimize the disruption in their education,” said Stephanie Maddox, MCPSS teaching administrator at USA Children’s and Women’s. “The child is able to fully participate in the class, not just sitting in front of a desk, but is able to move around the classroom, move up to the smartboard, participate in any of the activities that the children are doing in the classroom.”
On Monday, Edwards worked on equations with a classmate at a smartboard in math class, and later participated in a Kahoot online activity with his classmates in science class.
“This is awesome,” said Edwards, who hopes to return to school himself next week. “I get to see my teachers and my friends. … It’s easy to control. You can move through the crowd easily. I practiced at the hospital. It was actually very easy.”
MCPSS has a staff of four teachers and paraprofessional at USA Women’s and Children’s to help students hospitalized there stay on track in their education. Maddox said the interactive nature of the robot gives the student a sense of normalcy by actually being in the classroom and participating with his or her classmates.
USA Women’s and Children’s currently has two of the robots available for use by MCPSS students, and Edwards was the first to try it. David Akridge, MCPSS executive director of information technology, said he’s hopeful the program can be expanded with more robots for hospitalized or home-bound students to attend classes remotely.
“It is just as if they are there,” Akridge said, “which is an amazing thing if you think really about it to be 25 miles across town, but you can be going to school navigating the robot through the halls to all the places you need to go. It’s just amazing.”