AV1 avatars help absent students in Bremen, Germany, attend classes

Why do we need robots for all schools? André Sebastiani, 46, works as a consultant in the “Media and Education in the Digital World” department at the Senator for Children and Education in Bremen. We asked him a few questions to learn more about how he uses their 14 AV1s.

Mr. Sebastiani, you are responsible for digitization and educational media at the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. What is your goal for this year and for 2024?

The state of Bremen is a nationwide leader when it comes to the digitalisation of schools. For example, we have been using itslearning, a learning platform, for years. Since 2020, all students and all teachers have been equipped with iPads. Our schools have comprehensive WiFi and the DigitalPakt School is currently replacing the green boards in the classrooms with digital models. We are very advanced in terms of digital infrastructure and are working together with our schools to ensure that our schools continue to develop and that the potential of our digital infrastructure is used more and more effectively.

You recently purchased 11 AV1 avatars. How does the avatar fit into your objectives?

In total, we will have 14 avatars in use in Bremen and Bremerhaven next school year. Bremen has implemented inclusion most consistently of all federal states. The exclusion rate is less than 1% of all students. In combination with our good digital equipment, the AV1 avatars help us to enable students who cannot attend classes due to serious illnesses, for example, to participate in social life and learning. In this respect, our two objectives complement each other ideally: to develop schools towards a culture of digitality and to educate as many children as possible in an inclusive manner.

Who was involved in the decision and budgeting?

In the last school year, the Bremen Hospital School approached us with the desire to try out telepresence robots. Bremerhaven also expressed interest and we then purchased three school robots for testing. The experiences were so positive that we successfully campaigned to purchase additional telepresence robots.

How did you find out about the school robot?

School avatars have been used for a long time at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf. Contact between the university clinic and the hospital school in Bremen came about through children and young people from Bremen who were treated in Hamburg. In the last school year we were able to organise a workshop in which colleagues from the University Hospital HH, the hospital school, Max Popp from No Isolation and the Senator for Children and Education took part. It was important for us to be able to learn and benefit from the experiences from Hamburg.

What were your first thoughts when you found out about the school robot?

I found this interesting and worth supporting from the start. But it wasn't until I saw the report at Logo! that it really clicked for me. I think that you only get a real idea through moving images.

How do the AV1 avatars get to the children? Do you already have concrete ideas for implementing this?

I work in the “Media and Education in the Digital World” department. Our department has a media rental facility where, until recently, physical media could still be borrowed. However, physical media now hardly plays a role in our schools because films and other digital offerings are made available via the Internet. That's why we will convert our media rental service into an avatar rental service and also take over the administration of the devices there.

Why did Bremen decide not to obtain consent from the classmates' legal guardians to use the AV1 avatars in the classroom?

Ultimately, it is a matter of balancing legal interests. On the one hand there is data protection and the right to one's own image and on the other hand there is compulsory schooling. From our point of view, in the specific teaching context, the fulfillment of compulsory schooling by the sick student should be valued more highly. Ultimately, nothing can be seen or heard via the video conference that the student in question would not also see or hear in the classroom. The video conference is technically clean and GDPR-compliant. It cannot be the case that a student is prevented from taking part in class because classmates or their legal guardians decide against consent or simply fail to do so, which is probably the more common case.

How do you fundamentally ensure that new technologies and educational media are understood and used by teachers?

We have created a wide range of support from the authorities. We have a whole team of competent speakers who have many years of teaching experience and who support individual teachers, but also entire colleagues, in developing towards a culture of digitality. The offering ranges from small explanatory videos and online training formats to entire training days and support for school development processes. We have noticed that the 1:1 equipment with iPads in particular has triggered a boost in digitalisation and, for example, our learning platform has become a natural and everyday teaching medium.

What role does inclusion play in your evaluation of new teaching and learning software?

Accessibility and inclusion always play an important role. The decision to use iPads as uniform devices also had to do with the fact that accessibility functions are implemented very comprehensively in iOS. When it comes to software, it always depends heavily on the specific intended use. For example, we have provided a whole range of apps that are specifically aimed at students with intellectual disabilities. Basically, our aim is to provide all students with the right tools.

Have you heard of the term “diclusion”? What is your understanding of the term?

Of course I've heard of diclusion. Lea Schulz has created a catchy term to think of inclusion and digitality together. I think we've already come a long way in Bremen. Thanks to the 1:1 equipment, the iPad has arrived in many places in our classrooms as a powerful inclusion tool. For example, when a girl from Ukraine started school in my son's 4th grade, it was the most natural thing in the world for the children to use their iPads to overcome the language barrier. They used the translation functions and made conversation cards to help with communication.

Do you know how many students in Bremen were unable to attend their home school for a longer period of time (> 6 weeks) due to illness in the last two years? Are there surveys about this?

I can't say anything about that, I don't have the numbers.

Why do you think all school authorities should purchase the school robot?

I find it difficult to make recommendations for other school authorities and can only speak for us in Bremen: despite a serious illness, it is possible to continue to be involved in the class community with the help of a telepresence robot and to be able to take part not only in lessons, but also in breaks and excursions. In my opinion, it can hardly be valued highly enough.The AV1 technology helps students with long-term illnesses and creates the necessary learning requirements for remaining in the main school and at the same time enables social participation.
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