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Online students travel the campus from their homes with robots controlled by a smart phone

Photo by Brooke Thomas
Photo by Brooke Thomas

The Information Technology  Department recently launched Geo, a remote-controlled telepresence device, that allows anyone from around the world to connect to ORU through live two-way video and audio streaming.

Noel Magwood, freshman online student, uses Geo to engage in classes from her home in Miami, Florida.

“I know that when operating the robot I am telepresent, but, quite frankly, I feel more present than I’ve ever been, as an ORU student,” she said.

Geo was bought from Double Robotics for exaclty $2,499. Michael Mathews, chief information officer, found special meaning in naming the robot Geo.

“Geo ‘means’ world, global or earth, and ‘vision’ simply implies a vision,” he said. “[Through Geo] we are able to give every student a personalized vision of the world through technology.”

With Geo, a remote student can take control of the “robot’s capabilities” and drive up to the overhead screen for a closer look at what is being presented or go up to the professor and ask a question. Magwood said her experience with Geo has pushed her into engaging more with the class, even as her face is on a screen attached to a robot.

“In the past, I would shy away from answering questions and participating in groups, but now I’m all for it. I sit in front of the front row now, and I am more involved with my professors and the lessons they present,” Magwood said. “Geo-1 with my face attached to it has also lightened the atmosphere a bit in the classroom. One of my professors always teases me about how worried about my weight they are because Geo-1’s body is so slim.”

Dr. William Ranahan, assistant professor of biology, said he initially had his doubts about the robot.

“When I first heard of the robot, and having Noel as a virtual student, I was concerned she might feel isolated. I am happy to say I was wrong,” he said. “Her ability to manipulate the robot in class gives her a real presence. She can speak with us and participate in our class activities in real time.”

ORU alumnus Stephen Guzman tested the robot on campus several times before it was implemented.

“For me, the heart behind it was what would I want done for me in that situation; how far would I want someone to go to help me finish my education?” Guzman said.

With aims of technological globalization within reach, this one-of-a-kind telepresence holds massive capabilities for the future of education on campus.

“We now have a way to include far more than 3,400 students onto the Tulsa campus through telepresence of the robot. In addition, as ORU grows its online student populous, we will be able to have the online students feel much more engaged with other people on campus,” said Mathews. “ORU is becoming a trend-setter in new and innovative technologies that will naturally help people want to attend the university.”

In the 50th anniversary year, while much of Oral Roberts’ original ministry is being remembered and celebrated, Mathews and the IT department are striving to bring people into the ministry of ORU through technology, much like Roberts took the message to the world in his day.

“In the year 2015, we can still broadcast out to the world, but now [through] the advancements of the robot and telepresence we can bring people right into the altar and campus experience,” said Mathews. “Simply put, the robot will be used to spread the gospel and to increase the excellent value of an ORU whole person education to many more people around the world.”

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