Tecnológico de MonterreyTelepresence: A Form of Digital Learning

Telepresence: A Form of Digital Learning

Telepresence: A Form of Digital Learning

Juan Carlos Alfonzo LeónMay 18, 2020

With telepresence technologies, students can have an interactive and immersive learning experience.

Nowadays, we are confronting a hard battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, which led us to leave the physical classrooms to which we were accustomed. Hoping to slow the spread of the virus, in recent days, health experts have asked us to stay at home, isolate ourselves, and distance ourselves socially to curb the contagion. Schools, faced with this situation, are making an effort to adapt to this unprecedented situation and allow students to continue taking their classes, which would not be possible without the adoption of technology that enables us to achieve it. Through telepresence technologies, we can leapfrog over social estrangement and let students continue their classes without feeling lonely.

To facilitate the learning of students remotely, teachers have many aids, including online learning platforms, open educational platforms, multi-platform applications, mobile devices, "virtual campuses," and all other remote online technological alternatives. These are particularly relevant to achieving the goal of advancing in school, work, or any other activity and freeing ourselves from the social limiting of this pandemic.

What is telepresence and how does it work?

Telepresence refers to the technology that allows an individual to "transport" from one physical space to another through a telecommunications network, managing to access and be in places as if he were physically there but experiencing it through a virtual presence.

The parallel growth of cloud computing services augmented reality, and virtual reality will carry video conferencing to the next level. Here I share with you some examples of how this technology might evolve:

Evolution of video conferencing

  • There will be the creation of standardized classes in all universities, which will have presenters in life-sized holograms leading conferences and giving talks. This will make it possible for students around the world to access lectures by experts in different areas, for example, NASA astronauts, Olympic Games winners, book authors, Google developers, etc. (eLearning Inside, 2019).
  • Telepresence robots will allow remote users to freely explore a space that they are not in, through a physical personification in that space. It is a two-way system to explore how to improve the social experience of robotic telepresence. The local user with an augmented reality interface sees a life-size avatar of the remote user overlaid on a telepresence robot (Jones, Zhang, Wong y Rintel, 2020).
  • Currently, TecSalud uses a telepresence robot for doctors to consult remotely with patients diagnosed with COVID-19. They can be even miles away. The robot prevents the risk of infection for the doctors; also, the robot uses fewer material supplies for protection. This is a practice that can be applied to other types of contagious diseases (Treviño y Villanueva, 2020).

What are the benefits of telepresence?

First, it improves communication because one can observe the non-verbal communication of participants. Also, it increases productivity by reducing interaction via e-mail. It also saves the participants' transfer costs and travel time.

Other important distinctions of this technology are that students have more opportunities to access prominent teachers at Tec de Monterrey, regardless of their geographical location. Also, they use vanguard technology interactively and expand their advisory possibilities by having the availability of teachers on other campuses.

What the teacher needs

To implement this technology, one must be in a physical space that allows the experience of immersion to be lived. The projection in that space must be in a chroma format that should only be projected on a front wall with the use of a projector connected to video conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Classroom, and TeamViewer, etc. Other required pieces of equipment include a video camera, environmental microphones, broadband internet, and mobile devices. The most indispensable item is a glass screen (glass with 2 x 1.5 m anti-reflective film) that allows the recreation of a precise hologram image so that the teacher looks life-size.

What the student needs

For the reception of telepresence technology, it is essential to have the following resources: a computer of medium to high power, internet access, laptop or PC with an integrated video camera, environmental microphones, and video conferencing applications.

This system has a rigid architecture because the installation is made to order. So, at this time, it could be costly to install a system with this technology at home.

Project implementation

The incorporation of virtual reality elements in the courses of Tecnológico de Monterrey is not new, but, starting in 2018, they brought together teachers and students located in different geographical spaces into the same environment to interact, make decisions and collaborate in contexts with real applications. This maximizes the teaching-learning process, transforming it into a technological educational experience that transcends distance.

Telepresence sessions have been designed for active learning experiences to achieve an enriching learning experience for students. Also, the skills profile of the current students called "digital natives," who are widely familiar with remote communication by text, voice, and images, means they can easily accept the teacher in the telepresence format, which will hook them into the learning experience.

Advantages of telepresence technology

  • It facilitates the "team-teaching" of courses among professors located in different locations.
  • Teachers can take distance training courses in an online format but with the presence of the virtual image of the instructor conducting the activities of the training course. The teachers enrolled in the class can observe and interact with the other participants in the course.

Among other achievements of the project coordinated with Tec professors for the Physics class in the August-December 2018 semester were:

  • Ensuring a high academic standard by standardizing the academic quality of the courses on the two campuses.
  • Bringing a diversity of faculty and experts to a higher number of geographically distributed students.
  • Generating a new interactive and immersive experience in the classrooms.
  • Enriching the offering of flexible teaching models in the academic programs.

The students who participated in this project expressed opinions that had the following notable comments:

  • An innovative, disruptive, fun experience.
  • Broad diversity of topics and learning.
  • Academic use of augmented reality.
  • Exciting interactions with other campuses.
  • Using tools like Kahoot! and simulators.
  • Practical examples to understand and review the content covered theoretically.

The development of this ongoing project has allowed standardization of the teaching-learning process for the Physics I course between the two campuses, and an academic relationship between the two professors of physics has been established naturally and effectively.

I invite teachers in physics and other areas to experience the shift in the way of teaching their courses and encourage leaving the traditional model to transcend to an active and interactive teaching-learning model.

About the author

Juan Carlos Alfonzo León (juan.alfonzo@itesm.mx) Holds a master's degree in Electrical Engineering. He is a full-time professor in the Engineering and Architecture department of the Tecnológico of Monterrey campus in Chiapas.

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