Some futuristic “teaching aides” will help faculty at two local parochial schools keep students engaged when school starts next month.
“SWIVL” robots will bring live classroom instruction to students enrolled at Three Rivers Christian School and St. Rose Catholic schools. Teachers insert an iPad into the robotic base, which then tracks teachers as they move around classrooms and allows them to interact with students audibly and visually.
St. Rose principal Kristin Silva said the robots bring a more real classroom experience to students’ computers and laptops, especially because the school will start remote.
“Teachers will come into classroom every day, so even though we are distance learning, this will make it feel not so distant,” she said. “Students can see friends on cameras and ask questions.”
The robots are white discs that twist to keep the camera’s focus on the teacher as they move across the room. An iPad sits in a divot in the center, and it can either record video or livestream to Zoom.
Teachers wear microphones around their necks that also function as a tracking device for the robot.
Even though Three Rivers plans to return to school full-time with all 270 K-12 students, Superintendent Erin Hart said the SWIVL devices will help families who don’t feel comfortable putting their students back in the classroom. The SWIVL package comes with four other microphones that can be placed around the room, so online students can hear their in-person classmates, too.
Hart said Three Rivers capped class sizes to make sure everyone can be socially distant, and they plan to use some of their outdoor learning spaces to reduce risk.
But with the strict COVID-19 daily health screening, any students feeling sick with any kind of illness won’t miss that day’s instruction, she said. Students at home might tune into the SWIVL broadcast several times a day for specific lessons, she said.
“It’s a different way of thinking about the school day for students who aren’t able to be in the classroom at that time,” she said.
Each SWIVL unit costs about $800, Hart said. The iPads are sold separately, and they cost about $320 each. Teachers will get training on the devices before the year starts.
Both schools purchased SWIVL robots for every classroom. At Three Rivers, that’s 16 devices. St. Rose bought 13 to accommodate its 115 preschool-through-eighth-grade students.
Silva said the robots will be useful after the pandemic ends, too. For example, students who are just sick with a mild cold could stay home without missing anything. And the recording feature can be used for teacher evaluation and improvement. Teachers could record a lesson then go back over it and see what they could improve, she said.
“It can affect so many different aspects of (education),” Silva said. “It’s just making us better educators and let us be able to be a little more flexible with our learning environment.”
St. Rose chose to start remote because it seemed like the safest option with the level of community spread, and with the new technology students could still get high quality, live instruction, Silva said.
“It’s very cool. For me, (an upgrade) is the interaction between the student and the teacher. A lot of last spring was you watch the video, you do the assignment. Now its more like, ‘Hey, we are back at school and we are learning,’ “ Silva said.
And Three Rivers teachers will be able to combine the SWIVL robot with “smart boards,” Hart said. The Prometheus boards are like digital white boards, but with more abilities, like making presentations and playing videos.
“We’re ready. We’re agile, we’re small and small ships turn quickly,” she said.
Silva said this fall, there’s a “light at the end of the tunnel” that things will be back to normal soon, even with the extra tech helping students along.
“This is going to eventually end and we’re going to get back into our classrooms,” she said. “The day can’t come soon enough.”
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