To help teachers create a more engaging virtual environment, two University of Texas Permian Basin officials made the IT TeleStudent.
TeleStudent is a skeleton type robot that lives in the classroom and acts like a student.
Senior Education Technology Analyst Curtis Rogers said it can be put into lesson or small group mode and with its 360 camera, it gives students a more complete view of the classroom. Many students can also log in at the same time.
“What they will be able to do is they will be able to look around, either on their computer or through the headset, … the classroom and see their classmates. The reason he was given a body is to kind of make you feel like you have someone else in the class with you,” Rogers said.
Brad Shook, vice president of information technology, said what they were trying to do was give faculty all the tools they needed to make their classes interactive and engaging for students.
“If I’m sitting in a class, we can actually lower it so people at home have the same perspective as if they were in class,” Rogers said.
The screen will show if anyone has a question.
“…It’s important because this one TeleStudent can actually represent 10 distance learning students…” Rogers said.
That way, he added, teachers don’t have to teach remote students differently.
If a student has a question, the teacher could answer it as if the student were in the classroom.
“They can hear the speaker, the instructor all the time, but in order for them to talk they have to be in small group mode,” Rogers said.
Remote students can talk to each other and in-person students can talk to the TeleStudent in real time.
Shook said the idea came from Clark Moreland, an English professor and director of the Heimmermann Center for Engaged Teaching.
Shook said Moreland had a number of different ideas for how to engage remote students, so he reached out to the IT team and it all went from there.
“How do you make students feel like they’re not just talking to a webcam over a computer? So… for the student at home, how do you make them feel part of the class by giving them the freedom to look around what they want to watch, especially with the 360 camera, it’s a lot more like being in class because sometimes it’s just interesting to see who you’re in class with, or if someone is talking other than being stuck on a static camera looking forward to it,” Rogers said.
Rogers said there is a privacy shield for students who don’t want to be seen on camera.
All the technology used for the TeleStudent was already used at UTPB.
“The main thing about TeleStudent is that it brings everything together and that’s kind of why we’re really excited about it because it involves so many different things that we’ve had a lot of success so far,” Rogers said.
In this area, Shook said there are a lot of oilfield workers who want to go back to school and often they can’t physically go to class, but that way they can still connect and feel part of it. integral to the group.
During the pandemic, he said they used Microsoft Teams when giving a synchronous class.
“…So if I don’t look at the chat box it’s very easy to miss the question that’s why we got this big screen so now every time they type it it’s big. I can see Curtis had a question and I don’t have to…go back to teams to check…” Shook said.
Using elements that already existed at UTPB and likely exist in many school districts, the TeleStudent was built in several pieces. If they had worked solidly, it would have taken two weeks to build, Rogers said.
Shook said the other thing they did in his department was to use free software.
Rogers said it uses Open Broadcaster software, which many streamers and gamers use.
Rogers said the technology can be duplicated “quite easily.”
Once they finish the fall semester and get student feedback, Shook said they might modify or refine the model.
They have also used technology to help people with social anxiety by making videos about going to a bank and opening an account, or making a deposit, for example, so they can familiar with this.
The technology can be shared with other institutions and school districts.
Shook said another exciting aspect of the TeleStudent project is the involvement of student workers who helped build the frame, assemble it and test it.
“…That’s one of the things that our department is really proud of, is to involve a lot of students (that we bring in) (and allow them) to gain experience in these projects; work experience that they can put on their CV.
“One of the things that’s really interesting about the Curtis department here at ITS Productions is these students, by the time they’ve left they have all kinds of production on their resume, from 360 video to 2D modeling “Shook said.
Shook said he started offering internships to high school students last year.
“…By working with ECIDD and their CTE (Career and Technical Education) program, students are actually here for a few hours every day…so they get (the) high school credit they need. , but then they gain experience here learning a lot of those skills. We have them in our production department, the technology department, and technical support. This coming fall, we’re going to have them in our engineering department. We going to have them in the art building as well so we are really trying to help bridge that gap between our high schools and UTPB so that our high school students can see what we have to offer and get some of that experience before to graduate from high school,” Shook said.
Rogers said he’s done quite a bit with escape rooms which are also heavily used.
A member of the music faculty, Dan Keast, had gone to a music lecture and they showed a static image of some objects and you randomly clicked on it and it would take you to the next phase.
Ultimately, it ended with a live Teams session where the student played his instrument for Keast.
Rogers said it created a lot of excitement among teachers about 3D environments. They’ve created a video showing how to get around campus in a wheelchair so you can see what it’s like and the challenges they face.
Shook said another thing they’re looking at is how to make technology affordable for students.
“…I don’t know if we’ll ever see classes that are always virtual…but there will be situations where virtual is most helpful and it just brings that extra level.” We want to be able to help get an affordable solution so that these students can now all participate in this 360 degree world and… gain this experience and commitment and hopefully be excited about what they are doing because that now they can do it in virtual reality,” Shook said.
Rogers said he’s done a lot “by gamifying a lot of it using technologies that students already enjoy and integrating them into it, so hopefully that will improve their classroom engagement experience.”
Shook said they’ve done something similar before with an exhibit of ancient Mexican art owned by ECIDD’s director of innovation, Jason Osborne.
Rogers and his students took 3D scans of much of the art and took 3D photos and built a complete package that a school can download. It includes all the parts information.
“They can experience it in virtual reality. They can print the objects because there are 3D prints, so now they can experience the full art gallery. They can touch it, they can feel it , they can make a 3D view of it, they can rotate it in 3D, zoom in. That’s all the technology they have,” Shook said.