The University of Akureyri in northern Iceland provides both students and teachers with access to telepresence robots to attend classes and meetings or to teach. The university has a long history of offering distance education in Iceland. Today, with about 70% of students located outside the city of Akureyri, weather no longer hampers participation because students and teachers can still meet using a robot, called fjærvera, or telepresence. This digital technology has been essential in promoting a learning community within the university.
When students and teachers were unable to attend lessons and meetings in Akureyri, online meetings were sometimes made available using, e.g. Zoom or Skype for Business, allowing users to connect to the location via a computer or smart device. One of the disadvantages is that users have no control on site, which means they cannot move around to see fellow students, co-workers or objects better. Users take up less physical space compared to being present in person and teachers/co-workers have to ensure that a connection can be established and the sound adjusted.
In collaboration with Michigan State University (US), the University of Akureyri introduced telepresence robots that are controlled by users via a computer or smart device. Users can move around campus, attend lessons, hold meetings, participate in conversations and teach on campus. What is more, users can move around to better see fellow students and co-workers, allowing them to take up more physical space, comparable to those present. For example, when people are seated at a table, the telepresence robot also has a seat.
One of the advantages is that the user is in control and can move around, improving communications within the university for students and teachers who do not live in or are outside Akureyri. Users report that having a presence on location is one of the major advantages of using telepresence robots, not to mention the ability to be on campus even when the weather is poor or other factors interfere. The project, which saves users time and money, is environmentally friendly and reduces the carbon footprint because traveling to campus is not always necessary.
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