This paper presents a qualitative study of deployment and use of a robot as a sick child’s avatar at school. Many children and youth suffer from a range of chronic illnesses that make them, often for long stretches of time, deprived of normal education and social life.
The participants in our study are adolescents who have been diagnosed with, and suffered
from, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) for at least one year. They attend school typically between 1-3 hours per week, and the robot-avatar is intended as a way for them to extend the time spent in the classroom and to increase their social presence.
The paper discusses tools made to help us understand these young people and their relation to technology (concerning their physical and mental condition) and their connectedness to others (friends, family, teachers and other relevant connections).
Further, the paper reports on experiences with the use of robot-avatars by participants, their parents, and their schoolteachers.
In addition, the first trials in real life show huge potential of the avatar, both in terms of ease of use, and because lessons learned from these two cases most certainly generalize to many of those suffering from ME/CFS. This because the participants had many problems common to ME/CFS, and the feedback from the study is that using the avatar has worsened none of the symptoms. On the contrary, very positive feedback from participants, school and parents were received.
It is still important to adopt strategies for use that are in line with the need for energy modulation related to the ME/CFS illness. Being aware of and sensitive to issues related to the energy modulation is highly important through the whole process of doing research or developing technologies for and with people suffering from ME/CFS.
Our research indicates that the robot-avatar, the added work tasks for teachers and organizational issues still needs more work, but the technology has the potential to support youth suffering from ME to access school and reduce their exposure to social isolation.
A robot-avatar: Easier access to education and reduction in isolation? by Jorun Borsting, Alma Leora Culen in Conference E Health, July 2016