WOOSTER, Ohio — The College of Wooster’s education majors usually spend a lot of their learning off campus.
Sarah Dunlap is the director of field, assessment and candidate engagement for the education department.
“One of my tasks in the Department of Education at the college is to kind of assign our students out into the field,” she said. “That is where they get the most experience, the most valuable teaching comes from that.”
But due to the pandemic, placing college students in K-12 classrooms was a bit of a tall task for Dunlap.
“A lot of the schools were not allowing us to come in, just trying to de-densify their classrooms,” she said.
So, leaders in the Education Department decided if they can’t put their students in the classroom, they’d bring the classroom to the students using robots.
The 9 Ohmni robots are shared throughout the department. They are fully mobile and allow students to interact throughout the classroom.
“We log in on our computer, we get to talk to the kids, interact with them, ask them questions,” said Seth Whitehead, a freshman education major.
The robots are in K-12 Wooster City Schools classrooms.
“They can move around, just like they would if they were there physically,” said Dunlap.
Ryan Ozar, an education professor at the college said both the student teachers and the students in K-12 classrooms have adjusted well.
“They were logging in six hours, seven hours straight, walking around and getting to know these kids in one classroom,” he said. “It's like a circus sometimes where a student will just sign off a robot and another one signs right back on,” he said.
And while Matthew Broda, the department chair, said there’s nothing like being in-person, he said he still sees students fall in love with teaching.
“I'm not seeing as big of a difference in terms of the students saying ‘I really like kids. I really enjoy talking with young people and spending time with young people,’ and that's at the crux of wanting to be a teacher,” he said. “This device is allowing us to do that, with some proximity to what we have been doing before, which is tremendous.”
Gretchen Tefs, an instructor in the education department, said the robots allow students to quickly figure out what teaching route they want to go in.
“So some may not know what they even want to be teachers,” she said. “Some might think they want to work with younger kids or older kids. We're able to very easily switch them from maybe a 1st grade classroom, and then the next two weeks they might be looking at an 8th grade English class, and then the next two weeks a high school history class,” she said.
The robots may seem futuristic, but right now, they’re helping form future teachers like Jackson Stuff.
“I want to work with them in person, but for all in all, it’s a pretty good alternative, I have to say,” said Stuff.
Dunlap said they’re already thinking about how to use the robots down the road.
“We have alumni in Dallas and Atlanta, Nashville, that we're talking with about sending the robots to their classrooms so that our students here get to see, you know, a classroom that they normally would never have been exposed to,” said Dunlap.