Can Robots End Isolation and Disruption for Unwell Students?

A project, funded by The Department for Education, has investigated the impact of 90 AV1's in The UK.

Interim findings from the Department for Education project on AV1

It has been a year since we began the largest AV1 research project ever conducted, investigating the impact of 90 AV1s over two years. The project, funded by the Department for Education, and lead by Cath Kitchen and Sarah Dove, seeks evidence on the positive effects of AV1 on children with a long-term illness.

Interim findings show that there has been a rise in average attendance of AV1 users, from 29.4% before use of AV1, to 58.4% since the use of AV1. The project also uses a Personal Development Scale which is a bespoke scale used for measuring readiness to reintegrate into school. It consists of 80 points overall, and measures areas such as ‘communication with adults’ and ’hopes for the future’. The average score at baseline was 31.7 points. There has been an average increase to 50.2 points.

In addition to this quantitative data being collected, there are numerous case studies to evidence the impact of AV1. An article, written by Sarah Dove and Cath Kitchen, has been published by Teaching Times, and features the experiences of a teacher and student using AV1 to access school. An extract of the article is featured below – the full article can be downloaded at the end of this article.

AV1 has been developed by the Norwegian company, No Isolation. Currently, more than 1000 AV1 telepresence robots are in use across the Nordics, UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands, with many more children and young adults having been supported via AV1 since launch in 2016. In the UK alone, there are now more than 250 AV1s in use. With the Department for Education’s 2018 publication of ‘Creating Opportunities for All’, the Alternative Provision Innovation Fund was created, and a trial to investigate the efficacy of utilising telepresence robots to support children and young people accessing education whilst they are unwell has been agreed. The project aims to assess whether or not pupils are able to re-engage with their learning, attend and progress while receiving treatment or recovering from surgery or illness.

The project is ambitious and large scale, with 90 AV1s being distributed across the country, and bringing together educators from schools, hospital education provisions and short-stay schools in looking at AV1 use as an alternative to more traditional methods of home tuition. Home tuition will typically be provided within a student’s home to provide one-to-one lessons. The AV1 does not look to replace this, rather it is designed to bring another dimension in, allowing children to virtually attend schools even if they are unable to leave their homes or hospital beds. Although this is a cost-effective solution, the benefits to the student in interacting and remaining connected to their home school is priceless.

A teacher from a Gloucestershire school reports the impact that having the AV1 in their class in terms of offering opportunities for continuity of education:

My Year 9 class were doing some preparation for their Year 9 English exam, focusing particularly on the question which asks them to explore the structure of a text. They read and discussed an extract from the novel the woman in Black from their anthology. The pupils and I found it incredible that Sue was able to participate in the lesson to such an extent. She read an extract from the text, answered questions and shared her written answer at the end. Her voice was loud and clear—there was no distortion and no breaks in the sound. We felt as if she really was in the room with us! Whilst the Robot generated a lot of interest at the beginning and the pupils were very enthusiastic about it (they named it ‘Sue-bot’) I do think that were it to be in every lesson, it would be really unobtrusive and no-one would take any notice of it—it certainly didn’t get in any one’s way. I actually liked having it there — I felt rather affectionate towards it; it really was like having a little person there with the pupils and I felt like I was talking to Sue when I spoke to it. At the end of the lesson there was some time for the pupils to ask Sue what the experience was like from her end, they were really interested in how she controlled the Robot and how much she could see in the classroom. She demonstrated the range and all the pupils gave her a wave. Many thanks for letting me enjoy this experience—it did all feel rather exciting!

The pupil who was controlling AV1 also shared their experiences. The year 9 pupil from a Gloucestershire school said this:

To be honest, I was actually incredibly surprised at how well the robot worked. I genuinely felt I was part of the lesson even though I wasn’t there. I was able to contribute to the class discussion and I was clear on what was going on. I didn’t miss out on anything either. This will be a really useful tool for children who can’t go to school for whatever reason and will allow them to be a part of lessons in whatever subject. The camera was very high quality and I could see everything on the board and even potentially watch videos or clips from the internet. I really enjoyed trying it out too, as it was a new experience and quite fun! This new piece of technology definitely has the ability to really help people and become more common around schools.

About the authors

Sarah Dove is the strategic director for Phoenix Education Consultancy and the project manager for the DfE innovation fund project investigating the efficacy of telepresence robots to support young people in accessing education whilst unwell or receiving treatment.

Cath Kitchen is a National Leader of Education for hospital education and is the Executive Head Teacher, The Skylark Partnership Medical Needs MAT. She is the project lead for the DfE’s Alternative Provision Innovation Fund to assess the efficacy of the telepresence robot known as ‘AV1’.