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Classroom robot records teacher for students who miss class

A Mitchell High School teacher wears a remote recording device, called a marker, around her neck that allows the robot to follow her movements. The Swivl robot follows the movement of the marker, tilting up and down, and side to side. Using the marker that hangs around her neck, a teacher can hit record from any distance in the classroom. They also can hit a button that stops the robot from swiveling and forces it to remain stationary. Forum News Service photo1 / 2
A swiveling robot records and follows a teacher at Mitchell High School so a student missing class can review the entire class. Forum News Service photo.2 / 2

MITCHELL, S.D.—Mitchell High School is piloting technology that's making it easier on students when they miss class.

Since the beginning of the school year, three teachers — one each in math, science and English — have used a Swivl robot in their classrooms.

These robots record audio and video of the teacher's lesson, allowing students to watch a lesson they may have missed or wanted to go over again.

"Students that miss a class, due to an activity or such, will be able to watch the day's lesson from anywhere they have internet access," said Joe Childs, principal of Mitchell High School. "Additionally, teachers will be able to view a teaching episode, reflect on the success of it, and archive the video for future use."

The small, lightweight robot is circular and acts as a base for a recording device, such as an iPad. Teachers download the Swivl app, place the iPad onto the robot and hit record.

The teacher wears a remote recording device, called a marker, around their neck that allows the robot to follow their movements. The Swivl robot follows the movement of the marker, tilting up and down, and side to side.

Using the marker that hangs around their neck, teachers can hit record from any distance in the classroom. They also can hit a button that stops the robot from swiveling and forces it to remain stationary.

After the lesson is over, the teacher archives the video and can put it on their personal website for students to view later.

"They're not missing any info, because they're going to hear the exact same thing," said Gretchen Smith, an English teacher. "When they come in saying, 'I missed class,' sometimes they hear the abbreviated (version) with what you tell them they missed, or they have to get it secondhand from another student. This way, they didn't miss anything, because they can just sit and listen to the whole thing in class."

Smith uses the Swivl when she knows several students may be gone, or a bigger project is taking place. Right now, Smith is working on a series focusing on "The Scarlet Letter." She records these lessons on the book so students can go review lectures, which also contains powerpoint presentations within the video.

Smith said she has not had technology to this level in her classroom before, but it's welcomed.

"It is just kind of an addition — an additional benefit for the kids that are gone," she said.

For Clint Kiewel, a science teacher at Mitchell High School, the Swivl robot is technology he's wanted to add to his classroom for a while.

"For years, I thought it would be nice to have something like this," he said, pointing to the Swivl robot that sits on a makeshift stand in the middle of his classroom.

Kiewel creates video of his lectures using the Swivl every other day, building up a library of recorded lesson plans.

While it's been nice to use for absences, Kiewel said he is hoping the videos work well for review as the semester continues.

Not only can Kiewel use it for students missing a class, but for his own absences as well. Kiewel, who also coaches freshmen boys basketball, wants to use the videos for when a substitute teacher is present. Students can watch the videos, listen to Kiewel's lectures and not miss a beat.

The three teachers who use Swivl have been collaborating and working together to discuss what has worked with the robot and what hasn't. For example, how low the marker sits on the chest of the teacher, affects the video. Kiewel discovered one day, when he had the remote sitting too low, that the video was not including Kiewel's head within the screen. He then adjusted where the marker sat on his chest to fix it.

Neither Smith nor Kiewel has noticed or can track how many students are utilizing the online videos, but they have had students ask about the new technology.

"I know there's interest," Kiewel said.

Childs said the Swivl robot, which costs about $375, is in a pilot stage with the three high school teachers. After determining how students and teachers are benefitting from the robots, Childs said the school will look into purchasing more for additional classrooms next year.

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