By David Williams
Deputy Head for Pupil Wellbeing
Recently, we had a young girl who was diagnosed with an illness that meant she was unable to attend school for a year, as her immune system would be too low. However, it was recognised that she was still able to engage with her learning, when she felt up to it.
Traditionally, we would have sent home worksheets and tasks to complete, aimed at keeping her learning ticking along but with minimal teaching input required from family members. But this approach, as we know, is just a stop-gap and does not provide the nourishing and enriching opportunities that a classroom offers, nor does it provide the vital, personable support of seeing, hearing and interacting with your peers and staff.
So, we turned to technology; in particular a company called No Isolation who have designed and built their friendly-looking classroom robot – AV1 – to help bridge the gap between home and school life. They describe AV1 as a tool for ‘[reducing] the loneliness and social isolation through warm technology’.
How does it work? Well the robot is positioned in the classroom and the child is at home on their device. AV1 has a built-in camera and microphone to transmit the lesson back to the child; nothing overly difficult to put in place so far. But here’s the clever bit – from home, the child can interact in 3 ways: they can move the robot so that they have a 360 degree view of their classroom, including their friends; they can talk with their friends during paired talk; they can let the teachers know when they want to answer questions by making AV1’s head flash. In other words, for all intents and purposes, the child is fully immersed in their lessons and the school life that goes with them.
So, did it work? What was AV1’s impact for our pupil? Well it does not get much better than this: “It made me feel happy to be part of the lessons – nine and three quarters out of 10!”. More importantly, our pupil was also able to vocalise that being able to watch and listen to the actual learning, even though she knew she would have traditionally been completing a worksheet on the same topic, has helped her to keep better pace with her peers and has therefore eased her transition back into school life in the same year group as her peers, despite having missed almost an entire year of school life.
It’s never ideal for a child to be at home, but learning need not be so isolating anymore.