What comes to mind when you hear the word "robot"?

It's most likely either a hyper-realistic robot that can't be separated from a human plotting to take over the world, or 'Disneyfied' robots like C-3PO and WALL-E designed for our pleasure. However, today, their potential influence is far broader. Robots are being developed to help us with everyday activities and to improve our lives. Consider the Roomba vacuum cleaner, robotic arms for complex surgeries, or Tesla's self-driving car–all of these innovations are paving the way for new ways of living and being.

Another field in which robots are proven to be beneficial is education. Traditional classrooms can be transformed.

Here are five examples demonstrating how robots are being used to modernize classrooms and provide differentiated learning experiences.

1. Make the hybrid classroom a community

If this past year of quarantining and sheltering-in-place has taught us anything, it’s the value of in-person relationships and human connections. This situation is particularly pertinent in education, where bonds formed with teachers and classmates can profoundly impact students’ engagement, attainment, and life choices. Unfortunately, however, as we saw during the pandemic, in-person learning is not always feasible.

As we emerge from the restrictions, many schools have adopted hybrid learning models with a reduced classroom capacity, instating distance learning. Unfortunately, this arrangement can leave some students feeling left out or unmotivated. With the power of robots for learning, students can simulate core aspects of the school day experience from any web-based device–and have complete control of the process. Whether ‘driving’ their robot into the classroom or attending class behind a virtual desk to engage in a discussion, robots can help remote students feel like they are still part of the school community.

2. Include homebound or hospitalized students in real time

Before online school became the norm, many children had experience with remote school due to illnesses, hospitalizations, or other medical reasons. Often, these students had to work on the material independently, with their families, or with private tutors. While these ‘solutions’ may have allowed students to keep up with academic work, they couldn’t help students learn how to socialize and build camaraderie with peers and instructors.

3. Invite experts to speak directly to students

Robots in schools are not just for students’ use; they also offer classrooms a way to connect to the world around them like never before. Hearing from experts in a field can ignite previously unknown or unimaginable interests and motivate students to put their ideas into action. Of course, we can watch their videos or read their material, but passive interactions can’t compare to personal conversations.

When an expert makes a video call via a robot, he or she seems more like a live person. The speaker has complete agency and control over their movements. And the best part is, these expert speakers don’t have to leave the comfort of their own homes.

4. Go beyond the classroom walls  

As we saw during the pandemic, places we took for granted, such as museums, offices, and even parks, were suddenly closed to us. Confined to our own homes, we longed for the ability to return to these locations. Now, we can now take advantage of these spaces in a personal way without compromising our health. Using educational robots, classes can be escorted around their local learning sites or even brought to places thought inaccessible before, such as national museums on the other side of the country or historical landmarks in other states.

Additionally, the portability of many telepresence robots allows students to travel with their class outside the school. At only 20 pounds, some robots can be folded over and carried by hand or put in any car or bus. Furthermore, most robots don’t require reassembly, making them incredibly easy to bring students anywhere they want to go.

5. Quality check classrooms and facilities virtually

If teachers cannot come to work–whether they’re out sick, traveling, or unavailable for another reason–using a telepresence robot offers them an easy solution for school administrators and others to check on classrooms without disrupting their schedules.

This is a great strategy that goes above and beyond most educators’ initial reasons for purchasing the robot, illustrating its multifaceted value.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in eSchool News. The original article can be found at https://www.eschoolnews.com/2021/09/30/5-ways-robots-will-bring-your-classroom-into-the-21st-century/2/)