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Supporting inclusion with the AV1 tabletop robot

Each year there’s a child in your class that you’ve marked absent before the morning bell goes. You know they’re not coming in today, tomorrow or next week. They’ve been diagnosed with cancer, anxiety or M.E. You can send work home in the post, via e-mail or it can be collected by their carer. Mum told you this morning that the pupil is missing everyone a lot too, which is taking its toll on their wellbeing.

Surely, you think, there must be a better way for this child to stay connected to school life?


I’m happy to say there’s a solution. It’s AV1: a young person’s app-controlled school robot that sits in class for them, seeing friends, teachers, work and the wider world, all from the comfort of their own home with iPad. It’s creators, No Isolation, want to make sure no one loses out on their education or suffer from feeling alone during periods of ill-health. As Apple Solution Experts for Education, we have worked with teachers across the country and often hear growing concerns around prolonged absence and its effects on education; AV1 can close the gap in situations such as this.



AV1 is a robot?

In essence, yes, but it’s also an avatar. It’s a tabletop robot that represents a student with a long-term illness who can’t physically attend school. It’s less than 30cm tall and weighs about the same as a bag of flour so it’s not going to stand at the front of the classroom and take over your job.


Shouldn’t I just buy a webcam?

AV1 is not a webcam. It does have a built-in camera, but this transmits a live stream, and cannot record. It’s a teaching and learning tool. It helps young people stay connected to their learning environment and helps combat their loneliness while away from the classroom. It’s human-like form and facial expressions remind students in the classroom that a real person is controlling AV1 with iPad, and that there’s a friend not at school who shouldn’t be left out.


A webcam can show one static position where learning is taking place. AV1 uses a rotating base to turn to face anyone who’s speaking to the child with a single swipe of the screen in the app. It also lights up to grab attention if the child wants to ask a question or let you know they’re unwell. Another key advantage over existing distance learning-tech is how AV1 stays connected. It can use school Wi-Fi or it’s built-in 4G connection so it can move around school easily and even make school trips a possibility for those who can’t physically attend.



Isn’t it odd though, just talking to a robot?

When the child is attending class digitally you’ll be mindful of their wellbeing. No Isolation considered this when designing AV1. Through the AV1 App, the student can make AV1 pull several expressions so you know how they’re feeling. Additionally, it can also light up blue. If this happens, it’s their way of telling you they’re not feeling 100%. Just like how you’d give a child some space if you felt they had a temperature, if AV1 has a blue hue you know to give a distance learner breathing room and not to include them in class discussions.


What do people really think though?

We’ve already taken AV1 on the road to the Leeds for Learning Virtual School Conference (#LflVirtualSchool on Twitter) where it gathered interest and made several heartwarming first impressions. Throughout the day we chatted to Headteachers, SENCOs and Class Teachers who were immediately drawn to AV1. School leaders felt it was cost-effective when comparing it to time spent on home tutoring and the impact that absence has on school data. Class teachers were surprised how small it was but that it was friendly and easy to interact with.


At first, teachers were a tad concerned that looking after AV1 would add to their jobs list but were relieved when I mentioned it’s all-day battery life and how other schools have arranged buddy systems to take care of it. Here’s how a buddy system in your school could work: Imagine if a child in your class was using AV1. Two close friends who are also in their classes could pick up AV1, take their friend to lunch, walk them through the corridors between lessons and say goodbye at the end of a full day’s learning. SENCOs were delighted, immediately naming children they knew would benefit from it. Everyone I spoke with was pleased to know it could be used with multiple children as well, so that once a child didn’t need AV1 anymore, it could be passed on and set up with a new user.



Is this in schools now?

It is! Hundreds of AV1s are assisting children in the UK right now, and Preston School in Yeovil, Somerset, are proud to own one. Headteacher Gregg Morrison wanted a solution where a pupil could stay in contact with his friends and still access his education. Then he discovered AV1.


“Everyone embraced the opportunity it gave to the student. Prior to AV1, he’d missed so much learning. It greatly improved his attendance levels as we marked him present when he was connected to AV1. It has allowed a very sick child to keep in touch with their friends and access learning, and we wholeheartedly recommend it.”


Meanwhile, across Europe, AV1 has enabled almost 1000 children to partake in everyday school life and keep in touch with their friends and this number continues to grow. On top of this, The Department for Education has invested over £500,000 of the Alternative Provision Innovation Fund to AV1, further showing it’s commitment to combating loneliness as a part of the UK government’s loneliness strategy



If there’s a student where you work that resonates with anything we’ve mentioned, AV1 is the tool for you. KRCS and No Isolation firmly believe we can help learners across the country keep on learning, wherever they might be and however they’re feeling. A KRCS Education Development Manager can come out to see you with AV1, showing you it’s potential, in person. With No Isolation, we’re ready to give advice and tackle any question you or families you work with may have.


By Phil Sparrow, an Education Development Manager at KRCS. Follow Phil on Twitter.


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