Education

Vecna Board Names Dwight Moore CEO of VGo Subsidiary

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 22, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Vecna Technologies, parent company of VGo Communications, has selected Dwight Moore as VGo’s new Chief Executive Officer. The appointment of Moore to this position follows a strategic decision to make the VGo product line a subsidiary company under the Vecna umbrella and focus its mission on immersive and affordable telepresence.

“Dwight’s experience in growing organizations, his passion for delivering value to consumers worldwide, and his accessible leadership style make him an extraordinary fit for our team,” said Vecna co-founder and president Deborah Theobald. “We’re looking forward to Dwight’s contributions to the growing VGo brand providing exceptional value to home consumers, students and educators, as well as healthcare and business professionals.”

“I am delighted to join VGo,” said Moore. “Vecna as a whole, and specifically the VGo team, have a rare combination of an incredibly loyal customer base, an unparalleled product, talented people, and a commitment to leaving a lasting, positive impact on the world. As we move forward in bringing new features to current users and a broader market, our mission remains focused on improving the quality of interpersonal communication.”

Moore has spent his career building enterprise value for public and private companies in a number of industries, including the telecommunications and consumer electronics sectors in both domestic and international settings. He also brings extensive experience in operational management in innovative environments. In the past, Moore has served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at NTS (National Technical Solutions) as well as leadership positions for NCR and Lockheed Martin. Most recently, Moore served as President of Echelon Partners, a private equity company focused on growing small business.

About VGo
VGo is a robotic telepresence solution that allows a person to have a presence in a distant location, including the freedom to see, hear, talk, and move around as if he were physically there. VGo is a flexible tool that can be applied to organizational challenges in healthcare, education and business. VGo’s mission is to improve the quality of interpersonal connection for professionals and individuals. VGo became part of Vecna’s family of automation solutions in 2015 and proudly develops and manufactures its products in Massachusetts.

Learn more at www.vecna.com/vgo-telepresence/

About Vecna
Vecna was established in 1999 to empower humanity through transformative technology. Vecna’s portfolio of solutions includes automation solutions for healthcare, business, education, and material handling.  Learn more at Vecna.com.

Mohawk senior raising funds to allow others to use robots

From New Castle News

Granted one wish, Cris Colaluca used it to benefit others.

Now, he’s building on that dream.

A senior at Mohawk Area High School, Cris has attended class remotely via a VGo robot since seventh grade.

In October 2015, he used the wish granted to him by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia to purchase a VGo for patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Now, for his senior project, Cris has created a Go Fund Me account to provide more robots for hospitalized youth.

A variety of medical conditions, including spina bifida and a rare seizure disorder, left Cris physically unable to attend school after first grade. Initially, the Bessemer resident tried home instruction and Skyping, but missed the interaction with teachers and peers.

“For seven years, I was isolated, had no contact with other children, and barely had reading and math instruction. My education suffered, and my family worried for my future,” Cris wrote on his Go Fund Me page.

That changed when Theresa McConnell, Mohawk’s technology director, learned about the VGo robotic teleconferencing system. Controlled by a laptop and mouse at the Colaluca home, the VGo features a camera and microphone, which allow Cris to see and be seen at Mohawk. Students and teachers can view Cris on the robot’s “face,” while he can see his classmates on his home computer.

“There is more to getting well than just the medical care. Being stuck in a hospital room, or at home, is hard. Connecting through a VGo raises spirits,” wrote Cris, now a straight-A student and member of the National Honor Society.

Cris’ account, https://www.gofundme.com/vgo-robot-for-childrens-hospital, details his plan to raise $35,000, which will provide three additional VGo robots to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“Unfortunately, (the Children’s Hospital VGo) can only be used by one patient at a time. I hope that by having multiple robots, children who spend extended time in the hospital can have the same experience that I do,” Cris wrote.

The project is sponsored and overseen by Vecna Cares, a 501(c)3 organization providing technology and training to support and strengthen health systems in underserved areas. Any funds left over will remain with Vecna Cares to cover administrative costs and other projects. If the goal is not met, funds will be used to purchase as many robots as possible. All donations are tax deductible.

Bay High School student raising money to buy VGo robots for sick students

By Cleveland 19 Digital Team

BAY VILLAGE, OH-A freshman at Bay High School is trying to raise money so a 7-year-old girl with a life-threatening disease can be a part of her first-grade class. Two years ago 14-year-old Jane Finley was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

After she was diagnosed Finley missed seeing people at school every day. This past July she was re-diagnosed with a relapse of Hodgkin lymphoma.

After the relapse she knew she would be missing her freshman year of high school. Finley said there are so many children who don’t get to experience what it’s like to go to school because of an illness.

She wants to raise money to buy at least five of the VGo robots to donate to hospitals. The robot allows a student to replicate all of the things they would normally do while in school, like moving around the room independently, answering questions and participating in class discussion.

One of Finley’s friends is a 7-year-old living with an extremely rare and life-threatening disease, one of these robots will help her be a part of her first-grade class. Each robot costs $6,000 to $7,000.

If she is able to raise $30,000 she will be able to pay for 3 VGo robots and pay the yearly fee of $800.

You can donate money at this link

Virtual Student Coming to Sparta Schools

SPARTA, NJ –  A virtual student will be attending Sparta Township schools.  The VGo was introduced at the December board of education meeting.  Presented by Dr. Daniel Johnson, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Danielle Hamblin Director of Special Services and Michael Cronin Technology Coordinator the computerized devise on wheels will be standing in for students who are not able to attend school.

Officially called a Robotic Telepresence, the classroom tool will be available when school resumes after the winter break. The technology allows a student receiving bedside tutoring to attend school remotely from anywhere, according to Johnson’s presentation.

“Students on long term home instruction or who have frequent leaves of absences are candidates for the VGo,” Johnson said.

Sparta school district Special Services has purchased the $6,000 unit using funds through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA grant money.  Johnson said the district anticipates it will initially be used in Helen Morgan School and Sparta Middle School.

The VGo was demonstrated for the board and audience.  It was operated by Carlos Chappara from the district’s technology department, who was in the conference room down the hall from the meeting.  Through the machine Chappara was able to talk and listen to the discussion, demonstrating several of the features including moving around the room and the flashing lights that indicate the student is raising a hand from home to participate.

A built-in screen can display the face of the student from home or be switched off for privacy as needed.  Hamblin explained the sound can also be muted.  She said this is important for several reasons including to allow for the student to receive medical treatments.

Standing approximately four feet tall with the screen at the top the VGo assumes a seat in the classroom allowing the homebound student to feel connected to classmates and teachers.  The head can even tilt to follow the action in the room, look at demonstrations on a desk top and see the board, Hamblin explained.

There is also a text to speech interface “in case a student can’t speak,” Hamblin said.

It is “bottom heavy so it does not tip over,” Cronin said as Chappara made the VGo drive over a bump on the floor.

Hamblin and Johnson said some of the challenges to the VGo’s use are stairs and wifi connectivity in the student’s home.  They explained sensors stop the VGo from rolling off the edge of the steps.

The district has the ability to provide sufficient wifi to allow the VGo’s use in a home with insufficient coverage.  An instructional technology assistant will be in the home as well, while home-bound instruction is in use.

“Operating it is a lot like playing a game,” Johnson said.  He explained driving it is similar to driving a remote-controlled toy car.

Like a Roomba, the VGo will dock itself to recharge.

The initiative is currently in use in other area districts including Chester, Vernon, Mount Olive and Lopatcong.  In addition to education the technology is also being used in healthcare and the workplace.

Board members expressed support for the initiative.

“We’re cutting edge,” Hamblin said.

Q&A: Managing a Telepresence Robot in the Classroom

By Jessie Fetterling, School Construction News

The VGo telepresence robot changes the way schools serve students on leave by giving those who can’t physically get to school a telepresence in the classroom. The robot literally takes the student’s place in the classroom with a video screen that displays the student’s face and wheels that allow the robot to move throughout the space. Using WiFi, the robot is 100 percent remote controlled and offers high-quality audio and video — all of which the student can access remotely from a laptop or iPad.

School Construction News spoke to Phil Sheridan, director of Technology Services for the Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego Board of Cooperative Educational Services, a regional educational agency that serves 16 schools in New York State, about the VGo robot and its use in the classroom.

Q: In what education situations or settings is the VGo used most?

Sheridan: We have eight VGo telepresence robots available in a borrow-and-share model within the 16 schools across four counties in central New York for which we provide technology services. Primarily, the VGo robot comes into play when a student is out for a medical issue. This could be something such as recovery from surgery or issues related to autism and anxiety.

The robot is available to all K-12 students, but has most often been employed for middle- and high-school students, as they would generally have a harder time keeping pace with learning if they were absent from school for a longer period of time. In general, we have seen the VGo robots being used for shorter time periods of around two weeks, but students have also used them for six-month periods in some cases.

Q: What are the key benefits of the VGo robot from an educational standpoint?

Sheridan: In a word: it’s immersive. The student maintains complete control of the VGo robot so it’s like they are right there in the classroom. Unlike static monitors and other telepresence tools, the robot allows a more natural interaction in the classroom. Students feel free to speak up if they don’t understand a concept and therefore become a part of the classroom discussion more readily. They can engage with classmates and teachers alike. This is especially a benefit for longer-term absences in which, without this benefit, students could easily fall behind in grasping a concept and even face repeating a grade.

Q: What is the future of the VGo robot and how do you see it helping change the educational landscape?

Sheridan: A large part of my job is to introduce emerging technology to schools that may help to positively impact the educational process. We also help educators to use these new technologies by guiding them in the training and implementation process, so they are comfortable and successful with devices such as the VGo robot.

While we don’t want to see more students absent for medical reasons, we are glad to have the tools to allow the student to feel as if they are there when they cannot be. We want the VGo robot to be a technology that both students and faculty feel comfortable using if the need arises. Offering the VGo robot enables schools to be more competitive and opens the door for more experiences for the students they teach.

MonTech robot helps Victor kindergartner stay connected

By Perry Backus, Ravalli Republic

VICTOR — “Are you ready Miss Piper?”

The lights on the Vgo robot standing a couple of feet away from Victor Kindergarten teacher Sue Lane blink happily.

“Is your paper folded short and fat or long and skinny?”

“Short and fat,” comes Piper’s response.

On tiny tables surrounded by tiny chairs, the rest of Lane’s kindergarten class finishes folding their own pieces of paper into four little squares.

Math class is set to begin.

On the other side of town – across busy Highway 93 – 6-year-old Piper Heinz is keeping a close eye on her teacher on the electronic tablet that rests on the family’s kitchen table.

She draws the same candy canes, presents and Christmas stars that her classmates at school do as they learn a lesson on how to add and subtract. When her classmates hold up their fingers to show the answer, Piper does the same.

And when the lesson comes to an end, her classmates make a beeline to the robot’s camera to share their work with their friend.

“They all love Piper,” Lane said, with a smile.

***

The sweet little blonde-haired bundle of joy was born with cystic fibrosis.

At first, her parents weren’t sure that she would survive.

“I didn’t know anything about cystic fibrosis back then,” said Piper’s mother, Virginia. “It’s genetic. I had no idea I carried that gene, but now I know so does 80 percent of the population.”

People with cystic fibrosis have a defective gene that causes a buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs.

In the lungs, that mucus can trap bacteria, which can lead to extensive lung damage and respiratory failure. In the pancreas, the mucus prevents the release of digestive enzymes that allows the body to break down food and absorb nutrients.

Before people understood its dangers, children born with the disease often didn’t live to see their first birthday.

“It was called failure to thrive,” Heinz said.

Piper can’t digest food without medication. Her lungs have to be manually cleared by someone carefully pounding on her chest. Whenever she goes out into public, Piper wears a mask to protect herself from germs that might stray her way.

“I suppose in a perfect CF world, a person wouldn’t be around anyone or anything,” Heinz said. “They would be a bubble child. Germs are very dangerous to her.”

But that’s not the life anyone wants for Piper.

She started kindergarten this year and went to school with her mask for the first few weeks until her mother heard the annual flu outbreak had arrived in the area.

Heinz and the school knew the day would come that it wouldn’t be safe for her to be with her classmates.

“When Piper came into the school, we all realized that she was going to have a tough time, medically speaking,” said Victor Superintendent and Elementary Principal Lance Pearson.

Pearson said he didn’t know very much about cystic fibrosis initially. When he began researching the disease, he came across some information about how people were using robots to allow home-bound children to stay connected with their peers.

As a former kindergarten teacher, Pearson said he knows how important it is for children of that age to be able to interact with other kids.

“They want to be able to see their classmates,” Pearson said. “They learn as much from their peers as their teachers. When I saw that robot, the light came on. I thought this is what we could do for her.”

No one knew for sure just how well it might work.

***

Instead of being forced to go out and buy one, the school turned to an organization called MonTech that’s headquartered at the University of Montana.

The organization offers a variety of assistive technology items for people with a variety of disabilities and health conditions.

Two years ago, MonTech purchased two robots that can be controlled over the internet. This year, Piper is using one. The other is being used by a student with a different diagnosis on the other side of the state.

“We’re really happy that we’re having this kind of success with both of them,” said MonTech’s clinical coordinator Julie Doerner.

Initially, Doerner said the robots were designed for tele-health applications to allow physicians to examine patients in isolated communities in a private setting.

“When we first bought the robots, we just wanted to demonstrate how they work,” Doerner said. “We wanted to plant a seed at different conferences.”

Someone had the idea they could be used to keep homebound students connected with their classmates. Last spring, MonTech made its first loan of a robot to a student in the Billings area.

“Our loans do have a time limit,” she said. “Unfortunately, the robots are expensive. This does give school districts and others an idea about whether they are worth the investment.”

“So far, we’re hearing that kids love them,” Doerner said. “There are so many things that kids miss out on if they have to rely on other people.”

***

Pearson said it’s been a great learning experience for everyone.

“Even the kids in class are getting something out of it,” he said. “Most importantly, it’s been a neat tool for Piper to be able to interact with her peers.”

The school is looking for a way to purchase its own robot for Piper.

“It’s one of those things that we need to do,” Pearson said. “We all love Piper. We want the best possible education for her.”

Once the danger of the flu season has passed, Heinz said her daughter will return to school with her mask on.

“She knows the flu would wipe her out,” Heinz said. “It could be life ending. She’s also very social. She wants to be with her friends.”

Heinz has been thankful for the school’s efforts to help her daughter.

“Actually I bawled my eyes out when I heard the school was willing to do this,” she said. “People have gone out of their way to do wonderful things for her.”

Piper’s teacher knows how important it is for Piper to stay in touch for her classmates. It’s not only Piper that benefits.

She sees it every day when the robot suddenly comes to life and starts moving across the classroom.

That’s always followed with excited shouts: “Piper is here!”

“Socialization and friendship is what kindergarten is really all about,” Lane said. “They always get excited – sometimes too excited – when she comes in.”

Everyone knows that there will be other times in Piper’s life when she can’t physically be there in the classroom, but the robot will still allow her to be with her friends.

“It’s going to be a great thing for her to have when they all get in middle school,” Lane said. “She will be able to go into the girl’s bathroom and talk. These will always be her people.”

Robot interaction

By Ashley Rose for Cleburne Times-Review

When Nellie and Jimmy Hesa of Keene realized one of their sons was having trouble walking at the end of September, most doctors said it was most likely because of a pulled muscle or another type of strain on the leg. After their son’s left knee swelled up one day, they knew they had to take him to his pediatrician right away to find out what was wrong.

Tests at Cook Children’s Medical Center later confirmed their son, Shadrach “Boboy” Hesa had Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that begins in the cells that form bones.

Since the diagnosis, Boboy spends two weeks at Cook Children’s going through chemotherapy, and when he’s not in the hospital, he stays home.

He’s had to miss out on a lot of school work and interaction with his friends and teachers.

Future technology

Keene High School Principal Sandy Denning called and asked Boboy if he would be interested in using a robot to attend class, and his mother thought it would be a great way to keep him from falling behind.

Boboy starts a school day at Keene High School the usual way by getting dressed and eating breakfast just like other students. Instead of getting on the school bus to go to school he sits in the living room, logs onto his Apple MacBook to open a computer program and starts up a robot that he uses to visit each of this classes where he interacts with teachers and his fellow students.

The robot — Reata: Region 11 Assistive Technology Access — stays in Denning’s office when Boboy isn’t using it. When he wants to use it, he will use the program to “call” the robot where either Denning or another administrator will accept the call.

“When there’s someone around, I usually ask them if they can escort me to class,” he said.

As the robot travels through the hallway, Boboy is greeted by his friends, teachers and fellow classmates. He said when he first started using Reata to go to class, his friends didn’t know what to think about it.

“It’s good to see my friends and talk to them,” he said. “They think it’s cool that I get to use it. Usually they’re like, ‘Man, you’re lucky. You get to lie on the couch, stay in your pajamas and go to class. That’s not fair.’”

Denning said it’s mostly for Boboy and his friends to see each other.

“With his health being so fragile and all the germs and sickness, that was the main concern about him being here at school and being exposed to so much,” she said. “It’s good for him to still be able to see his friends and talk and socialize, I think.”

When Boboy started chemo, Denning wanted to find a way to make sure he didn’t fall behind in his classes. That’s when she contacted the Education Service Center Region 11.

ESC Instructional Technologist Tammy Motheral said they have 10 Reatas at the center for school districts to use if they need them.

“As long as we have a robot, we want a robot to be able to go to them,” Motheral said.

When school administrations realize one of their students will be out of school for a long period of time, they have the option to rent Reata.

“If anything it helps the students’ demeanor,” Motheral said. “It helps them feel normal again.”

From home or the hospital and using a computer and mouse, the student is able to “drive” the robot to school assemblies as well as to each of his or her classes. In class, the student will be able to actively participate in lessons, discussions and group work.

This allows the student to develop strong teacher and peer relationships, stay socially connected, boost morale, provide tangible benefits and receive quality instruction without falling behind on coursework.

The program uses VGo Robots, an innovative solution that allows students to attend classes via interactive video conferencing while recovering from long-term illness, injury or other factors requiring the student to be homebound or not able to be present in the classroom, according to its website.

Reata can be used for certain students:

• Homebound — illness, transplant, surgery or pregnancy.

• In school suspension.

• Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs.

Motheral said Reata Robots are loaned to districts on a case-by-case basis.

“All students, from kindergarten to 12th grade have used this,” Motheral said. “It’s just a wonderful program.”

KHS English II teacher Rebekah Stephenson is also Boboy’s homebound teacher and said the first time she saw the robot in her classroom, she and her class didn’t know what to expect.

“The first time he was in my classroom via the robot, we were reading our current novel,” Stephenson said. “At the time I was the one currently reading aloud and I tend to get dramatic in my reading.

“Well at a particularly dramatic part of the story I glanced over towards the robot and noticed the volume bar had appeared and it seemed to be going down. I turned to him and I said, ‘Don’t you turn that volume down on me.’ Everyone laughed and we went on with the lesson. I think I may have been speaking too loudly for his headphones.”

Stephenson said when Boboy is driving the robot around the school, the other students don’t really see the wheels or technology, they are just happy to see their friend’s face and hear his voice.

“His physical presence is very much missed at our school, but for now, we will take what we can get,” Stephenson said.

Denning said Boboy has complete control of Reata. He not only uses the robot to go to class. He also uses the robot to watch the school’s basketball games.

Boboy said before he was diagnosed with cancer, he played both basketball and baseball. Being able to watch his fellow basketball players during the games using Reata helps.

“I miss it a lot,” he said.

Healthy support system

When Boboy found out he had bone cancer, he said he didn’t think it was such a big deal.

“It took a few months for me to actually realize that this was something that’s serious,” he said. “My friends and family have been very supportive. The chemo treatments are better than what I expected. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to eat, not be able to keep food down. [The chemo] has been helping.”

Nellie and Jimmy Hesa both agree that they thought it was going to be really hard for their son, but seeing him with a positive attitude all the time gives them strength to not think negative thoughts.

“It has been keeping us OK, moving forward,” Nellie Hesa said.

Both have been fortunate enough to have jobs that understands what they are going through, they said, and members of the Keene community have also been supportive.

“Some people in the community put together a car wash to raise money for us,” Nellie Hesa said. “We had no idea about it because we were at Cook at the time. We came home and they gave us this huge jar of the money that they raised. We just want to thank everybody who’s been giving us support through this difficult time.”

Students at KHS created T-shirts to raise money for the Hesa family that say, “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind” on the front and “#TEAMSHAD Philippians 4:13” on the back. They are $15 each and benefit the Hesa family. For more information, call KHS at 817-774-5200.

To make a donation to the family’s GoFundMe account, visit www.gofundme.com/shamrock-boboy-hesa-2u4rpng?ssid=830503418&pos=1.

Robot allows chronically ill students to attend class virtually

By Teri Hornstein, Reporter, NBC2

LEE COUNTY – The Lee County School District is proving technology can take you anywhere. The district has a new system that allow students who are chronically ill to be there virtually with a robot.

The VGo device has a small screen that allows students to move around, speak up and even participate in class.

One of those students is 8-year-old Abigail Newbury, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes severe allergic reactions.

When she started spending more time with the school nurse than in the classroom, her parents and the school district started looking for options.

“It’s an amazing feeling not only for me but for the students that she gets to join our classroom,” said her teacher, Stephanie Cash.

They say they found a good one.

“Seeing her back in the classroom setting has been amazing,” said her mom, Michele Newbury.

Abigail is able to ask questions, work on group projects and can even move the robot around the room, all while at home and healthy.

“Her having the robot has definitely built her confidence and allowed her to feel a little more accepted and normal,” she added.

But working from home isn’t always easy for the third grader with the infectious laugh.

Getting to be a part of the class makes her forget her frustration, she says, and that she’s any different at all.

“I’ve made one friend so far. I don’t know her name but she’s very nice,” said Abigail.

“Watching her struggle with the everyday things you and I take for granted. So something as simple as being allowed to participate in class via the robot has allowed her to feel more normal and has built her confidence,” explained her mom.

The school district purchased six VGo robots last year through a grant. About 15 students share them to learn from outside the walls of the Lee County schools.

VGo robot helps ailing Mt. Pleasant student attend school

By Essex News Daily Editor

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Ailing Mt. Pleasant kindergarten student Henry Chang is now able to attend school while undergoing medical treatment, thanks to VGo, a device controlled remotely by the user that allows them to interact in another location. It is the first robot of its type to make an appearance in a West Orange school.

Kindergarten students gathered in teacher Ali Fazzio’s classroom on Sept. 21 to hear about the VGo and childhood cancer from educational liaison Joann Spera and child life specialist Kelly Blanchette of the Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Medical Center. Henry is currently battling cancer and receiving treatment at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The Goryeb Children’s Hospital, which first treated Henry, secured the VGo with help from the Valerie Fund for his use while undergoing treatment. Once she described how it worked, Spera turned on the VGo and Henry appeared on the screen to the delight of his fellow kindergarten students, who began waving and calling his name. Henry and his dad showed students how they could control the robot from Henry’s laptop, and it moved around the classroom easily.

The interactive device provides mobility around the school and classroom area, allowing Henry to not only learn but have a social experience.

“Utilizing a robot like VGo allows sick children like Henry, who cannot attend school, to continue to participate virtually, allowing them to continue to grow academically as well as socially,” Mt. Pleasant Principal Julie DiGiacomo said in a press release. “This technology transforms the way that we view education.”

Following the presentation, students exited the classroom, waving goodbye to Henry and sending words of encouragement.

Henry has been able to attend a few days of class at Mt. Pleasant as well as utilize VGo.

“Henry loves the VGo because he can communicate with his classmates and teacher and still feel connected when he can’t be there,” his mom, Heather Young, said in the release.

VGo Remote Student Robot Lets Homebound Students “Attend” School

By Bruce Brown, Health Tech Insider

Robots can take many forms. This one can go to school and provide a telepresence for homebound students. The goal for school-aged children who are ill, injured, or have disabilities is usually to get them back to school as soon as possible. If adaptive assistance is required, schools are responsible for providing whatever is necessary. In some cases, however, physically attending school just isn’t possible. Long-term or highly contagious diseases, immune system issues, and diseases or conditions that require an impractical amount of support machinery and assistance to travel with the child are situations where “going to school” just doesn’t work. Sometimes the condition is time-limited and in other cases it’s permanent.

VGo Communications  developed a telepresence robot called VGo Remote Student, or just VGo for short. VGo acts as a  surrogate presence. Connected by WiFi with a webcam and two-way audio, the robot allows students the next best thing to actually being physically in school. Three researchers from the University of California Irvine recently published a paper in The International Journal of Technologies in Learning about “virtual inclusion via telepresence.” In the study, five homebound students were paired withVGo telepresence robots. According to the authors, their work was the first exploratory study of telepresence robots.

Via the VGo robots, the students went from class to class, interacted with other students in hallways, went to lunch and other activities. The students were able to see and be seen via the webcams,participate in discussions, an interact with teachers and professional staff. The student’s experiences were not all positive. One experienced remote bullying and another withdrew from the study because she felt less “human.” Interestingly, the student who was bullied and his parent felt that part of the experience made it more “whole” and gave him a greater sense of what school was really like.

As telepresence robots are a new option for homebound students, much more study and research will follow. If robotic exoskeleton appliances can assist people with walking, telepresence robots are a step once removed to enable sick or disabled people to move about the world by proxy.

Florida third-grader uses robot to virtually attend school from home

LEE COUNTY, FL (WHDH) — A robot created to help kids stay at the head of the class is making a big impact for one Florida classroom.

The robot is giving students who are chronically sick the chance to take part in a virtual classroom.

Abby Newbury, 8, is not physically at school, but still manages to attend class each day.

“Math’s my favorite subject,” Newbury said.

Newbury suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes severe allergic reactions. When she started spending more time with the school nurse than in the classroom, her parents and the school district started looking for options.

“Having the robot has definitely built her confidence and allowed her to feel a little more accepted and normal,” Newbury’s mother, Michele, said.

The third grader is using the VGO robot to put her virtually in the room with her peers.

“I get to make friends,” she said. “Usually if I didn’t have this robot I wouldn’t be able to make friends and I feel like I’m actually participating in my class.”

She asks questions, works on group projects and can even move the robot around the room all while being healthy at home.

The Florida school district bought six VGO robots last year.

Each cost about $6,000.

Now, 15 students share them to learn outside the classroom.

VGo Robot Helps Ailing Mt. Pleasant Student Attend School

By Cynthia Cumming, West Orange Public Schools

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Ailing Mt. Pleasant kindergarten student Henry Chang is now able to attend school while undergoing medical treatment, thanks to VGo™, a device controlled remotely by the user that allows them to interact in another location. It is the first robot of its type to make an appearance in a West Orange School.

Kindergarten students gathered in Ms. Fazzio’s classroom on Sept. 21 to hear about the VGo™ and childhood cancer from Educational Liaison Joanne Spera and Child Life Specialist Kelly Blanchette of the Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Medical Center. Henry is currently battling cancer and receiving treatment at The Children’s Hospital of Philadephia.

The Goryeb Children’s Hospital, who first treated Henry, secured the VGo™ with help from the Valerie Fund for his use while undergoing treatment. Once she described how it worked Spera turned on the VGo™ and Henry appeared on the screen to the delight of his fellow kindergarten students, who began waving and calling his name. Henry and his dad showed students how they could control the robot from Henry’s laptop, and it moved around the classroom easily.

The interactive device provides mobility around the school and classroom area, allowing Henry to not only learn but have a social experience.

“Utilizing a robot like VGo allows sick children like Henry, who cannot attend school to continue to participate virtually allowing them to continue to grow academically as well as socially,” commented Mt. Pleasant principal Julie DiGiacomo.

“This technology transforms the way that we view education,”  she said.

Following the presentation, students exited the classroom, waving goodbye to Henry and sending words of encouragement.

Henry has been able to attend a few days of class at Mt. Pleasant as well as utilize VGo™.

“Henry loves the VGo™ because he can communicate with his classmates and teacher and still feel connected when he can’t be there,” said his mom, Heather Young.

To read more about VGo™ go here.

To read more about Henry and his parents, who are not only West Orange residents but teachers in the West Orange School district, go here.

See all the photos from the Sept. 21 presentation at Mt. Pleasant, go here.

Chronically ill kids attend school via telepresence robots

By Kelly McSweeney, ZDNet

Mobile robots can help chronically ill children regain part of the normal school experience. Some kids are unable to attend school for months or even years due to symptoms, treatments, or recovery from serious illness. These homebound children typically continue their education by having make-up work sent home and (depending on resources) studying with tutors for a few hours each week. But they miss out on a key aspect of school: socialization.

With today’s technology, the definition of face time has changed. Now, students can use live video chats to see and hear what’s going on in the classroom, chat with their friends, join in classroom discussions, or even join extracurricular clubs and go on field trips.

While it’s certainly nice to give kids a chance to actively participate in education, the main benefit of the robots is socialization. Kids who can’t attend school often feel isolated and depressed, and this can make them fall behind in both academic and health recovery efforts.

A new study from the University of California at Irvine explores the impact of telepresence robots in classrooms. Although telecommuting to school isn’t ideal, the study found that kids felt more socially connected with their peers and more involved academically. In short, they were happier.

When one chronically ill student used a robot to virtually attend class, he suddenly had increased energy and stamina. Previously, he was lethargic and uninterested in school, and his mother assumed his heart condition would prevent him from spending a full day on schoolwork. However, when he started using the robot, he became eager and able to attend school all day.

The robots are pretty basic — not much more than a tablet mounted on a Segway — but the effects can be profound. The device includes wheels for moving around and a screen for two-way video, plus cameras, microphones, and speakers. Current models don’t have arms, but kids can “raise their hands” to get a teacher’s attention by flashing the robot’s lights. The best part is they control the robots with a laptop, from the comfort of home.

Just with any connected device, there are the usual security concerns . Veronica Newhart, UCI doctoral student and lead author of the study, tells ZDNet:

Schools are very concerned with security and privacy. The VGo robot and the Double robot are two popular models that are being used in schools and neither robot allows for video recording. Administrators and teachers have expressed appreciation for the inability to record and have stated that they would not allow a robot with the capability to video record in the classroom.

There are, of course, some drawbacks to using robots instead of attending school in real life. On the technical side, there are connectivity issues, imperfect mobility, and limited battery life. On a personal level, it’s just a bit… awkward. One student opted out of the program and returned the robot because she didn’t like the attention it created. (Kids stared and called her robot a vacuum cleaner.) Another homebound student, Samuel, repeatedly had his view blocked by another kid’s hand. And while he was (virtually) eating lunch with his friends, another kid walked up and smeared ketchup on his screen.

Then again, name calling and lunchroom bullies are part of the true school experience. And these experiences can actually help kids bond with their peers. After the ketchup incident, Samuel’s friends took turns being his (robot’s) bodyguards. When the researchers asked his teacher how she felt about the bullying incident she said, “Well, he’s getting the full deal right here. The whole shebang… the good and the bad.”

Robotic surrogates help chronically ill kids maintain social, academic ties at school

vgo-research-uc-irvine-shool-of-ed-v-newhart

 

Appears on UCI News

Irvine, Calif., Sept. 7, 2016 – Chronically ill, homebound children who use robotic surrogates to “attend” school feel more socially connected with their peers and more involved academically, according to a first-of-its-kind study by University of California, Irvine education researchers.

“Every year, large numbers of K-12 students are not able to go to school due to illness, which has negative academic, social and medical consequences,” said lead author Veronica Newhart, a Ph.D. student in UCI’s School of Education. “They face falling behind in their studies, feeling isolated from their friends and having their recovery impeded by depression. Tutors can make occasional home visits, but until recently, there hasn’t been a way to provide these homebound students with inclusive academic and social experiences.”

Telepresence robots could do just that. The Internet-enabled, two-way video streaming automatons have wheels for feet and a screen showing the user’s face at the top of a vertical “body.” From home, a student controlling the device with a laptop can see and hear everything in the classroom, talk with friends and the teacher, “raise his or her hand” via flashing lights to ask or answer questions, move around and even take field trips.

However, the robots have gone straight from production to consumer, the researchers noted, and there is great need for objective, formal studies in order for schools, hospitals and communities to responsibly engage in this innovative educational practice.

The exploratory case study – co-authored by Mark Warschauer, UCI professor of education and informatics – involved five homebound children, five parents, 10 teachers, 35 classmates and six school/district administrators. The students – four males and one female – ranged in age from 6 to 16, and their chronic illnesses included an immunodeficiency disorder, cancer and heart failure.

Getting to see their friends and staying socially connected was what they said they liked best about using the robots. The school day felt more normal, they reported, because they were able to participate in discussions, interact with peers and undergo new experiences with their classmates.

“Further research is required to determine the impact of robot utilization on students’ health and well-being, as well as the most effective ways to implement this technology in various settings,” said Newhart, who presented the findings at the 23rd International Conference on Learning, held in July at the University of British Columbia.

“Collaboration among education, technology and healthcare teams is key to the success of virtual inclusion in the classroom for improved learning, social and health outcomes for vulnerable children.”

This fall, telepresence robots will become available on the UCI campus – a gift from the class of 2016. “This is a solution for any student who’s prevented from completing a course or degree program because of a long-term injury or illness,” said Newhart, who will soon launch additional studies in school districts across the country.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

VGo Robot Helping to Extend Reach of Care for Jacob’s Ladder Pediatric Rehabilitation

By Andrew Rowe, Valpolife.com

Jacob’s Ladder Pediatric Rehabilitation is extending their reach of care with their new VGo robot technology that they received as part of a generous donation by the Starlight Children’s Foundation.

The VGo telepresence robot is a versatile tool that Jacob’s Ladder is using in a number of ways including virtual visits. If a child is going through treatments at Riley’s, for instance, this VGo robot can go to school for them. Through an app on a laptop or tablet they can log in to the robot and control it and the camera, which has 360 degree views.

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Starlight Children’s Foundation and Astellas USA Foundation Bring VGo Robots to The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital

OKLAHOMA CITY, June 15, 2016 /3BL Media/ — Starlight Children’s Foundation and Astellas USA Foundation are partnering to advance children’s health and education through technology with the placement of two VGo robots at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany, Oklahoma. Patients and staff gathered at the facility today to unveil and celebrate the new technology.

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Every Student Succeeding: The Art of Possibility

ACSA’s Every Student Succeeding Awards program turns 20 this year. In recognition, we begin a 21-part video series, showcasing courageous students who inspire us with their remarkable success. Watch their stories every Monday, leading up to the ACSA Leadership Summit awards presentation Nov. 10 in San Diego.

You would never know by looking at the artwork. You would never know the artist, himself, spends most of his days confined to a bed. But perhaps that is the beauty of Christopher Leon.

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