Tech Could Help Students Learn During Extended Absences

The University of Colorado has purchased 15 interactive robotic devices meant to allow students to keep up with their coursework during periods of illness or absence.

by Cassa Niedringhaus, Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) / January 3, 2019
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(TNS) — This semester, the University of Colorado launched a program to help students maintain a presence in class even when they can't physically be there.

CU purchased 15 Kubi devices: robotic devices that are mounted on tripods, fitted with tablets and placed in classrooms. Then, students who are ill, injured or traveling for academic-related reasons can use their laptops to beam into the class. They can interact with their classmates and move the devices to scan the classroom.

About 10 students used the service this semester, and campus officials have plans to expand the program. It is designed for students facing long-term absences, rather than students who miss just a week of class because of the flu.

"If they aren't able to be accommodated officially by disability services, this is a great way for them to remain in their classes and not have to lose a semester's worth of time," said CU Kubi service manager Tarah Dykeman. "... This is bridging a support gap that could exist."

For junior Emily Cranny, the technology likely made the difference between her continued enrollment and withdrawal this semester.

In mid-September, a driver hit her as she rode her commuter bike home from class on Colorado Avenue. She endured surgeries, healed from facial fractures and recovered from a concussion, and she was unable to attend class for about two months.

In the latter stages of her recovery, for about three weeks, she used the Kubi device to attend several of her classes.

"It's really great because you can feel like you're in the actual classroom and have your face there and be able to ask questions, or you can keep the camera off and have the audio on and be able to communicate that way," she said.

Cranny sat at her kitchen table and chatted with other students and her teaching assistants, and she finished worksheets as her classmates did.

"From my home computer, which was miles away, I would be able to flip it toward the class or flip it toward the board and move with the teacher as well," she said.

When she was able to return to class, she didn't feel as far behind, and she knew more of the information, she said. Between using the Kubi and working with instructors via email, she was able to get caught up.

"For me, I definitely was super set about finishing this semester, but I probably wouldn't have been able to go onto campus," she said. "I probably would've had to withdraw from this semester, even though I wouldn't have wanted to."

The Kubi devices cost about $600 each, the tablets cost between $300 and $400 each, and each set also includes accessories such as a backpack, tablet case and tripod, Dykeman said. Students need their own laptops, but they can download the necessary software, Zoom, and use the service at no additional cost.

"We don't want to put an extra strain on them when they're already likely in a difficult situation," Dykeman said.

Dykeman, who works in the Office of Information Technology, coordinates with instructors and students and organizes deliveries. Her office also surveys instructors and students to assess their experiences.

The largest logistical issue at this point is the coordination of deliveries, but they hope to continue expanding.

"I think we'll definitely be growing a lot," Dykeman said.

©2019 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.