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The robots helping sick kids ‘teleport’ to the classroom

2020 was a tumultuous school year for most, but remote learning – and social isolation – is an ongoing reality for thousands of sick children around the country.

Associate Professor Petrea Redmond, an education technology expert at the University of Southern Queensland, has joined a collaborative research effort to explore how robots can help overcome educational and social disadvantages faced by sick children.

She joins UNSW Medicine and Kids Cancer Centre to contribute to not-for-profit organisation MissingSchool in their important work to give children a chance to be seen, heard and even move in their classroom again with the help of a telepresence robot service.

The robots used by MissingSchool’s ‘See-Be’ service look like electronic tablets on a stem with wheels and can be directed from home or hospital to move around the classroom or playground via an electronic device.

CEO and co-founder Megan Gilmour said unlike other video conferencing technology, the students actually have control of the robot – they can exercise their agency moving the robot around the classroom space.

“They can dial-in to their robot and be seen and heard, take their lessons in real time with their classmates, interact socially, and engage in social activities with their classmates and friends,” Ms Gilmour said.

“There's an abundance of evidence on the educational and social barriers faced by sick children but we need more evidence-driven interventions and solutions.

“Sick children missing school is an issue that everybody needs to be involved in. We can't solve it on our own, but we can together.”

The MissingSchool/UNSW/University of Southern Queensland collaborative research project is exploring these disadvantages as well as the effectiveness of the robots as an early intervention based on data from the pilot telepresence robot service.

The research team includes chief investigator Dr Joanna Fardell, Sarah Ellis, Professor Claire Wakefield and Ms Kimberley Jones (UNSW Medicine and Kids Cancer Centre); Ms Gilmour and Ms Sarah Jones (MissingSchool); as well as Associate Professor Redmond.

The study, which has been running since 2019, is supported by the Kids to Adults Chronic Illness Alliance.

The See-Be robot service was developed in 2017 by the not-for-profit organisation MissingSchool with the help of St.George Foundation and offered to students facing all types of serious illness across Australia from Kindergarten to Year 12.

Schools, parents and students interested in getting involved with the telepresence robot program can register their interest via the MissingSchool website.

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Associate Professor Petrea Redmond is an education technology expert at the University of Southern Queensland.