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Enhancing Learning with a Robot Named Swivl

Sept. 3, 2020 — Last spring, in response to COVID-19, NMH pivoted, quickly shifting to remote learning. Now, it’s time to swivel … or rather, Swivl.

Using a device called a Swivl Robot, NMH faculty are aiming to make learning more engaging for students who cannot be in the classroom. While NMH has re-opened for in-person learning, some students will learn remotely for at least part of the school year, and the first week of classes is remote for all students. 

“Our goal is for our students to feel like they are part of that classroom, whether they are physically in the classroom, tuning in from their dorm room, or learning from across the globe, ” said Lista Lincoln, NMH’s Academic Technology Coordinator. 

The Swivl Robot is a device that sits on a stand and connects to an iPad. The teacher wears a tracker on a lanyard around their neck, and the robot rotates and tilts to keep the camera’s focus on the teacher as they move across the room. “This allows teachers to step outside of the Zoom box,” Lincoln said. Teachers can also hand off additional trackers to students in the classroom, so the students joining remotely can hear from classmates as well as the teacher. 

Academic Dean Sarah Warren said that while the experience of learning online is different than in person, the technology provides new ways of teaching and learning that have benefits beyond just remote learning. Teachers can record a live class and make it available for viewing at a later time. They can record and edit lectures for students to watch outside of class, reserving class time for discussion. 

“This provides so much more flexibility to meet students where they are,” Warren said. “We are a learning community, and I think this experience is going to make us all better teachers.” 

Last week, NMH welcomed day and boarding students back to campus for registration and dorm move-in. The first week of classes, which began on Monday, will happen remotely so students can finish their on-campus quarantine. After that, the plan is to shift to in-person classes for most students. Some students, who are unable to return to campus due to travel restrictions, will learn remotely for part or all of the school year in the NMH Lab Program.

“We’re trying to provide a full interactive experience so students don’t feel like they are missing something in class if they happen to not be on campus,” Lincoln said.

In addition to Swivl robots, NMH has also outfitted certain classrooms with Kandao technology, which include a 360-degree conferencing camera and audio devices that combine high image quality with artificial intelligence and aim to mimic the face-to-face experience.

Lincoln explained, “Kandao will be more appropriate for a discussion-based class and Swivl will be better for other types of classes. Math teachers, for example, may want to walk from whiteboard to whiteboard to work with different problem sets, so Swivl is great for that.”