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Virtual Inclusion via Telepresence Robots in the Classroom: An Exploratory Case Study


Every year, large numbers of students are not able to attend school due to illness. Extended absence from the classroom has negative and overlapping educational and social consequences as students may fall behind in instruction, feel isolated from their peers, and experience loneliness and depression. School districts sometimes provide individual tutors who make occasional home visits but such tutoring cannot substitute for regular participation in the classroom environment. Telepresence robots may provide a way for students to remain connected to their schools, classmates, teachers, and maintain or develop critical social relationships via virtual inclusion. A total of sixty-one participants were included in this study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with five homebound children, five parents, ten teachers, thirty-five classmates, and six school/district administrators. While the robots were deployed, one home observation, two classroom observations and two focus group sessions were conducted. This study is a small-scale exploratory case study that examined the use of robots to attend school and how schools integrated homebound students via robots into traditional classrooms. Three themes emerged from the coding and analysis of the data: 1) anthropomorphism for social acceptance and normalcy, 2) overcoming isolation to meet socio-emotional needs, and 3) new experiences that generated talk of an academic future.

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