28th October 2021
News from the network
Denmark workshop 15th -17th September
After a lengthy Covid delay our first workshop was finally able to take place in Helsingör, Denmark in September. Participants from Norway, Sweden and Denmark gathered to share knowledge about new and established technology within the field of telepresence. We listened to user stories from pupils dependent on this technology to presentations on the background to school refusal.
The Danish National Board of Health and Welfare started the conference with a presentation about their model for cooperation and efforts to combat children and youths concerning school refusal. More than half municipalities in Denmark have challenges with school refusal and pupils’ well-being pointing to difficulties such as cooperation and responsibility between the different authorities as one of the reasons behind the difficulties the municipalities are facing. Causes for school refusal were as mentioned such as the learning and home environments and relationships etc. The model aims at addressing these problems through support and a holistic approach to the staff working around the child.
We also listened to research done at Aarhus University on the causes behind school refusal. The report showed amongst other things that pupils are seldomly asked why they do not come to school. This is just silently confirmed. Children with autism and ADHD stick out in the report with high absences and reasons for this such as the learning environment, relationships with peers and their situation at home.
In one case of school absence it was concluded that the child was not comfortable walking home alone from the bus and no one was at home when the child arrived. Telepresence is therefore not necessarily the solution to all cases of long-term school refusal. It is important to discover the underlying reasons. There is also a big difference in children who want to be in school but cannot because of illness and those children with school refusal.
Implementing telepresence robots
The conference continued with focus on implementing telepresence. The Danish Muscular dystrophy foundation presented their own work stressing that before introducing telepresence into the classroom the children who can benefit from the technology need to be identified. Their specific needs and how they can be included in the planning also needs to be addressed. It is important to have focus on the child and their needs during the whole process. Cooperation with other organisations and politicians was also addressed in order to create better opportunities for including children and adolescents.
In Göteborg the compulsory school’s administration has summarized the important factors to include for a positive implementation. This includes 21st century skills and the use of digital classrooms. A show of interest from all parties involved, training and support are also important. When introducing the technology it can also be of importance to start off on a small scale. Examples of this can vary but can include:
- Start off with a subject the pupil is most comfortable with.
- Start off with a teacher who has a good relationship with the pupil and who has good classroom management skills.
- Introduce the robot in a small group of classmates where the pupil is comfortable.
There were also school examples from Malmö with a school principal stressing that telepresence technology is only one of the many resources used within school.Telepresence also is not a solution that suits everyone, however, it is a worthwhile method to try out in helping pupils accessing education.
Several suppliers took part in the conference and presented their products. These included No Isolation, GoBe Robots, Shape Robotics and OriHime.
All the products have the same basic purpose. However, the suppliers have developed their products in different directions with specific functions and characteristics. Some robots have screens so the person behind the robot can be seen whereas others have designed the robot so this is not possible, for example if a child is receiving a cancer treatment then this function is not ideal. Other areas where the robot design differs are in size and mobility. Differences in design also reflected cultural and national traditions. Overall all robots give children the opportunity to be included in education and in a social context which otherwise would have been difficult due to their absence.
Workshop activity – Implementation of telepresence
During the workshop, we worked with case studies of implementing telepresence. 4 cases were presented, children with school difficulties, children with chronic illness, children with short-term serious illness, children who by illness did not know their class in advance. At the same time, everyone was allowed to test a robot’s functionality, camera sound and movement.
As well as listening to presentations on technical, social, scientific and educational aspects we also had a very informative presentation on the medical aspects from a pediatrician at Copenhagen general hospital.
- Roughly 650 children a year are diagnosed with Cancer in Denmark, Norway and Sweden combined.
- All cancer treatment for children is very demanding and includes operations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
- Side effects and consequences of the treatment can also be very hard for the child.
- The whole family can be affected during the treatment. This can also include both economic challenges and career opportunities.
- During treatment it is important that the child can feel the sense of belonging to a group and feel included.
- When the cancer treatment has been completed there are still many challenges facing the child and their family.
- On occasion treatment can also lead to death of the child.
The second research workshop will cover school refusal and will take place at OsloMet, Pilestredet.