Brenau University students will soon be able to “be in the classroom” even from remote locations thanks to robots the school will be using.
A “Kubi” — a computer with arms for a tablet to be mounted on it — will allow students to control their interaction with a classroom and instructor. Brenau expects to have the technology in its classrooms by August.
“Our goal is to make the online or remote students have the same experience as on-site students,” said Dan Odom, instructional technology support technician at Brenau.
The technology can help with courses that might not have enough students at one campus but would if taught using teleconferencing among multiple locations.
It also can provide better and more immediate assistance for technical problems during off hours, including weekends, Odom said.
Brenau could have 20 of the robots by the time school starts again in August, Odom said — one for the IT department at each campus, one for each campus for teleconferencing, plus six on the main campus in Gainesville.
“Kubi” is made by Revolve Robotics, a San Francisco company. It has been shipping the robots since 2014.
“Kubi means ‘neck’ in Japanese, and our product is a robotic tablet stand that gives you the freedom to interact while video conferencing,” the company’s website says.
Sabrina Skacan, with Rogers and Cowan, a California-based PR and marketing company, said the Kubi “brings those students into the physical classroom, but not as images on a screen. Instead, students view teachers or respond face to face to fellow students with this simple but effective device.”
Odom said he was Web surfing early in 2015 “looking for different options and venues to bring the remote experience into the classrooms.”
He found the Kubi online and inquired. Brenau got one of the robots, but “at first, it wasn’t really what we were looking for,” Odom said.
That changed in November when the Kubi and the school’s Zoom software could “talk.” The conversations involved Odom, Revolve Robotics and integrating the two pieces of software.
Once that breakthrough occurred, Odom said, Brenau became a participant in a roundtable with Michigan State, Arizona State, Stanford and Washington universities to discuss ways to best use the technology.
Brenau uses Mondo pads with 70-inch screens for teleconferencing. Odom said he still is seeking, and discussing, possible enhancements for the Kubi.
He noted that students, or instructors, using the Kubi now have arrows for controlling it. He hopes to get “pre-sets” created for each direction that would be faster to focus the pictures on the screen.
The school’s nursing labs also plan to use the Kubi for instructors to help students. Instructors can explain and demonstrate “the next steps without actually being in the simulation room,” Odom said, and also can judge the students’ skills in the lab.
“The idea is to make the students’ experience better,” Odom said. “I think this will do that.”