AI beams children from hospital to the classroom

When a child has to spend time in hospital, they can quickly become isolated from their friends and fall behind on their learning. But Cath Kitchen and Sarah Dove say that artificial intelligence is now enabling pupils in medical care to keep taking part in their lessons – as if they were in the classroom
6th March 2020, 12:04am
The Robot That Beams Children From Hospital To Classroom

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AI beams children from hospital to the classroom

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/ai-beams-children-hospital-classroom

Lily is listening to her teacher, Miss Carter. Miss Carter is explaining what the class will be doing in their literacy lesson today - they will be starting to write a newspaper report about the Blitz. Lily knows the subject of the Blitz well; they have been doing this as their topic for the past week.

Lily shares her work with Cailtyn by reading out loud and Caitlyn suggests ways to amend the text. They swap over and while Caitlyn reads out loud, Lily listens carefully and makes additional suggestions to improve her work.

Lily can see that the rest of her group are working enthusiastically. On the boards around the classroom, there is a display on maths but there is an empty wall where their work on the Blitz will be displayed.

This may sound like an everyday lesson, and it is - with one significant difference. Lily and Caitlyn are 40 miles apart, with Lily receiving treatment for neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer, in a specialised children’s hospital. Lily is accessing the classroom virtually, using an AV1 telepresence robot as her eyes and ears in the classroom.

The robot is a small, white upper torso and head - a technological update on the Roman bust, if you like. It sits in the classroom, representing the absent child, and becomes the conduit through which that child can access and interact with the classroom and those in it.

Lily can access the robot from anywhere, using a tablet and an app. She can remain in contact with her friends and her school, ensuring that she “belongs” even though she cannot physically attend.

How did this come about? Well, Lily is participating in a Department for Education Innovation Fund project looking at strategies to improve transition for pupils who are being educated in alternative provision. This project is assessing the efficacy of telepresence solutions to support young people accessing school while unwell.

Some 90 AV1s were rolled out as part of the two-year project and there are currently over 70 AV1s being used in schools, alternative provisions, homes and hospitals across England [including the school run by the co-author of this article, Cath Kitchen]. The robots help children with a range of significant health needs, including chronic fatigue syndrome, leukaemia, anxiety, cystic fibrosis and recovery from operations.

Using the AV1 in the classroom has two key components: a tablet and the telepresence robot avatar. When a student is not able to come to school, the AV1 takes their place while the child logs in to the avatar through an app on a tablet. A small camera sends a live feed, which is end-to-end encrypted and not recorded back to the child’s tablet. The child’s voice can be heard through a speaker, and they can hear what is being said.

The company that developed the robot, No Isolation, describes the AV1 as “warm technology”. The AV1 aims to promote a sense of belonging and so reduces the isolation that a child may experience when receiving treatment or recovering from life-threatening or life-limiting conditions.

The level of interaction we have seen has been impressive. If the child wants to answer a question, they can virtually raise their hand by pressing a button on their app and the AV1 flashes its head to let the teacher know. They can also amend the volume so they can speak quietly for individual or group work, or louder to address the class. If a child wants to listen but doesn’t feel well enough to participate, they can indicate this to the teacher by changing the colour on the robot’s head to blue. The child can manoeuvre the head and rotate the body in order to be able to get a full view of the classroom.

Just as important as giving children access to their classes, AV1 can also enable pupils to participate in enrichment activities outside of the school day. The child can even customise their AV1 to represent them as a person. Some have given their robot a meaningful name, added their favourite football team stickers or given it a school uniform.

There are, of course, challenges to using the AV1 in the classroom, including concerns around GDPR data regulations and safeguarding. There have been steps to counter this. For example, it is impossible to screenshot what is happening within the classroom. A safety feature within the app means that it automatically logs you out if you try to take a screenshot (a bit like the message you may get if you try and screenshot in a banking app) and switches AV1 off. A message is then sent to No Isolation, and the child has to log back in.

Another feature is that you cannot link the live video feed to a larger TV, nor record what is happening within the classroom from the tablet. The project team is actively working with schools to support their risk assessments and have already made several changes to the technology.

Obviously, teachers and students need to be trained in how the technology works and get used to it. Some teachers have explained how, after initially being reluctant to have AV1 in the class, they have quickly enjoyed the experience of maintaining contact with a student who would have otherwise been absent from their lesson.

Initial data from the end of the project’s first year is encouraging and shows positive trends in relation to children’s attendance, personal and social development and the teacher’s assessment of progress.

Giving feedback, parents have described the innovation as “fantastic” and “brilliant”, while children have been pleased by the fact that the AV1 minimises the impact of their absence on both their education and their friendships. Remaining in touch with friends and school has also been an important factor in enabling children to return to school without anxiety.

So what about the future for this project? Finance is, obviously, a huge issue. Our biggest challenge is looking at ways to make this technology accessible to more children who need it. We are investigating how we can make this project sustainable beyond the two years of funding and enable children who are unwell to remain connected with their home school and their peers. Watch this space.

Cath Kitchen is headteacher at a medical alternative-provision academy in Northamptonshire. Sarah Dove is project manager for the Department of Education Innovation Fund

This article originally appeared in the 6 March 2020 issue under the headline “The robot that beams children from hospital to the classroom”

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