What It’s Like to Have a Robot for a Teacher

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Story by Nichole Dobo

A telepresence robot, that is.

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Thomas Hatch noticed something unusual in a reflection on his laptop screen as he worked on a lesson one day in his pod at high school.

The teenager turned around. He was face to face with a teacher of an online course. Well, sort of. The teacher’s face was encased in a small video screen. His body was a 4-foot-tall plastic tower on wheels. He maneuvered the telepresence robot around the classroom and spoke to students using controls on his computer from a remote location.

“It was, um, different—definitely different,” Hatch said of his first encounter with the robot last year, when he was a junior at the Nexus Academy of Columbus.

The public high school in central Ohio blends online and in-person instruction in an open, office-style building located in a small industrial park. The school has some in-the-flesh teachers, but many teachers never set foot in the building, because they teach only online courses—some from locations quite far away. Most of the time, the remote teachers interact with their students through a computer screen or phone call. The new telepresence robot provides another means of communication with students and staff in the building.

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