TRinE Story: Art Class with a Telepresence Robot at Menntaskólinn á Tröllaskaga

Menntaskólinn á Tröllaskaga (MTR) has since the beginning of 2019 used Telepresence Robots (TR) in teaching with good success. The use of TR in teaching and within the school community has been varied and is used in more traditional subjects such as language studies and math but what is probably most interesting is the use of TR within creative subjects such as art and music. Both the teacher in art and the music teacher are living abroad (Gothenburg and London) and attend classes at MTR via the TR with good success.

In this TRinE story, art teacher Bergþór Morthens and two of his students share their experiences with TR.

“From the beginning the setup was that I would split my time between Gothenburg where I would distance teach and be on site in Ólafsfjörður for periods at the start of the semester and at the end of the semester. The idea was that inhouse students would attend all classes as usually according to their schedule and I would be with them in person at the start of the semester and end of the semester, in-between I would be teaching online from Sweden. To begin with I would be via skype on a tripod in the classroom. It worked ok but there was a lack of mobility and students would have to carry me around to show me their works. So, I was basically stuck in one place and needed the assistance of students to move around the classroom. Also, I was more isolated from my co-workers and depended on somebody to pick up my skype calls when there was class. When we bought the Telepresence Robots this all changed dramatically. Now I had mobility and was not dependent on other people picking up my skype calls, I can log into the TR easily from an app on my computer or my phone and can move around the school with ease. I can go into the classroom on time, can move around the classroom and all interaction with students is much more normal. Jokingly I often say that the only thing that is missing is hands on the TR. It didn’t take long for the students and myself to get the hang of this new way of communicating and this I feel is as close as I can get to being in the classroom in person. Another benefit of using the TR is the social aspect, to begin with I was a bit isolated teaching from Sweden but after we got the TR I can interact more socially with my fellow teachers and school staff. I frequently join them for coffee and drop in for a quick chat here and there. So, all in all I feel my experience with working with the TR has been extremely positive. Teaching this way goes very well with our teaching system (Moodle) The students get all information about the assignments there and when teaching from Sweden I teach from my studio so I can show students different techniques from the studio on the TR screen. So, I can easily access all the tools I need for teaching. Looking back, I was a bit sceptical to begin with, but I was quick to pick up on the possibilities of the TR and the students too. We are only in the early stages with using and developing TR in teaching, but the early signs are in my opinion very positive and with more technological development and experience with using TR in teaching it will become even better.”

Bergþór Morthens, teacher and artist

Bergþór Morthens has taught at MTR since the school's founding in 2010. In the years 2013 – 2015 he took an educational leave and did his MFA at The Valand Academy in the University of Gothenburg. The plan had always been to move back home after the studies in Gothenburg, but he decided to continue his stay so the idea that Bergþór would continue teaching but this time with distance teaching from Sweden.

“My experience with TPR has been positive. It’s not the same as having the teacher physically in the room but as close as it gets, and you are in good contact and communication with the teacher and you get all the information you need from through the TPR. Both my parents work at the school, so I had some previous experience of the TPR and seeing it in action. But it was undeniably a bit strange to begin with and while you were getting used to this kind of setup. I am in Bergþór‘s art classes and sometimes I miss not having him physically in the classroom, I miss the hands-on approach which you can´t get with the TPR and it can sometimes be little bit complicated to explain things through the TPR instead of the teacher being physically in the classroom with us. But other than that, I feel it is going very well and you are quick to adjust to this technology.”

Amalía Þórarinsdóttir, art student

Amalía Þórarinsdóttir is from Siglufjörður and is finishing her first year of studying in MTR.

“I‘m an art student in MTR and am hoping to graduate this Christmas. I live in Siglufjörður but am studying on site in Ólafsfjörður. I ‘m in Bergþór‘s classes that he teaches through the TPR. I think it is going very well although sometimes it would be better to have the teacher physically in the classroom, especially in the art classes. But still, it is going well and having the TPR is the next best option. It is much better to have the teacher onsite in the TPR instead of only getting all the information online.”

Birna describes how Bergþór moves around the classroom in the TPR, following the students’ work and giving them good advice.

When I started in MTR this was certainly a bit exotic and new for me, but I got used to it very quickly. In Moodle, our online teaching platform we get all the information and instructions about assignments at the start of each week. Then we can ask Bergþór in the classroom through the TPR if something is unclear. And there is no problem with showing him sketches and works in progress through the TPR.”

Birna says she has mostly experienced the use of TPR in Bergþór‘s classes but also with other teachers living abroad or teachers that for some reason can‘t be onsite to teach.

Birna Björk Heimisdóttir, art student

Birna Björk Heimisdóttir is from Siglufjörður and is graduating soon at MTR.

Photo Credits: Gísli Kristinsson, Menntaskólinn á Tröllaskaga

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