Telepresence robots allow for virtual inclusion of homebound children with medical conditions in traditional classrooms. However, while a growing body of research examines different uses of telepresence robots, little is known about the overall effect this practice may have on children or the schools they are attending. My dissertation explores our understanding of this phenomenon by investigating what we know about homebound children in the U.S. educational system, highlighting the inequality of current educational services, providing an in-depth evaluation of recent interactive technologies used in schools, and reporting results from three different studies.
The first study evaluates five cases in depth. These cases center on five homebound children, collecting data from the homebound children and their parents, teachers, classmates, and school administrators. I found three consistent themes in this study—the power to overcome isolation, classmates’ treating the robots as the children themselves, and supportive talk by all participants of the homebound child’s future.
The second study focuses on the teachers and administrators who have experienced the robot in their classroom or school. I found that although the technology has benefits, it also presents some unique challenges. The technology does provide inclusion for the child, but the teacher and classmates are now visible in the home and the home is visible in the school. Parents, teachers, and administrators need to collaborate and work together to address these possible breaches of privacy.
The third study examines the design features that matter for the robots used by children in school. It is not enough to study the innovative use of this technology and the impact on learners. The research must also represent their needs to the technology industry for design and production of improved technologies. This study reports the participant experiences behind the recommendations and then summarizes the technical needs for the robot to fulfill the specific needs of children in schools.
Together these three studies provide new insights into the benefits and challenges of telepresence robot use in the classroom. The collective findings from these three studies provide learner-centered, policy-relevant, and industry-leading information that empowers educators, users, and technology developers.