Michigan State Tests Telepresence Robots for Online Students

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Story by Leila Meyer

Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI, has been experimenting with telepresence robots that let online students participate in face-to-face classes.

The university offers a doctoral program in educational psychology and educational technology, which is available in both face-to-face and distance education formats, but the university has integrated the two options into a synchronous, hybrid model — a single, integrated program with online students typically participating via Skype or similar telepresence system on a fixed monitor in the classroom. However, integrating the local and online students into the same classes made it difficult to ensure that both groups of students were treated equally.

“Our big concern is that if you aren’t physically present, you become a second-class citizen,” said John Bell, associate professor of counseling, educational psychology and special education at Michigan State. “You’re there, you can listen and you can speak, but online students would say, ‘Excuse me, can I say something now,’ revealing they see themselves as not having the full rights of a face-to-face student.”

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