When school administrators across Illinois announced their plans to shift back to in-person learning after months of virtual instruction at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, ROWVA High School English teacher Traci Johnson was more prepared than most.
Johnson was awarded the International Society for Technology in Education’s Making IT Happen award at IDEAcon earlier this year for her efforts to incorporate innovative pieces of technology into her classroom. As a naturally computer-savvy educator, she knew exactly which digital tools were at her disposal when Adam Seaney, ROWVA’s principal, had to self-quarantine after traveling at the start of the school year.
Johnson is a longtime member of the Sandburg Education Network, an organization working to improve access to education technology tools and organize speaker events for teachers across Knox County.
“We discuss innovation in the classroom and bring it back to our districts,” Johnson said of SEN’s biannual meetings.
Through SEN, Johnson was able to connect with Cindy K. Arthur, the Coordinator of Instructional Technology at Carl Sandburg College. Johnson emailed Arthur about her coworker’s absence and jokingly asked if she could borrow one of the robots belonging to the college so Seaney could attend classes from home; to her surprise, Arthur agreed. Arthur handed off the robot to Johnson in the parking lot of the college, being sure to adhere to social distancing protocols.
“Without Cindy, this would not be possible,” said Johnson.
By connecting to the Double Robotics Double Telepresence Robot via video conferencing tools on his Chromebook, Seaney was able to attend morning duties, meet with other teachers and observe classes as he normally would while working in-person. He was even able to watch a science experiment up close and be part of a student’s birthday party.
“Our students thought it was pretty cool,” said Seaney. “I'm a relationship-driven person so continuing to build relationships with our students and staff while quarantined was a definite plus. There were several students that missed seeing the robot around when I was able to come back in person.”
The only problem Johnson and Seaney encountered with the robot was connectivity issues when the robot rolled into WiFi “blindspots” in areas of ROWVA High School.
According to Arthur, Carl Sandburg College has been making use of the robots in similar ways at their institution.
“At Carl Sandburg College, our focus is always about providing our students the best educational experience possible,” said Arthur.
“Many students who because of travel constraints or a health condition have used a robot to attend class remotely. Along with student use, Sandburg has used the robot to bring in guest speakers or trainers. We have also used the robot to provide tours of the one button studio and virtual reality studio.”
IDEA is pleased that the most recent awardee of one of our most prestigious awards continues to make use of digital tools during these difficult times.