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Author: Paul Hanaphy
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Author: Paul Hanaphy
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Author: Kubi Sertoglu
Telepresence robots help university students learning remotely to feel more a part of the class, new research by Oregon State University suggests.
The findings are particularly important given the nationwide shift to online instruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing many students who otherwise would be in classrooms and labs to pursue their education from a distance.
The National Science Foundation study led by Naomi Fitter of the OSU College of Engineering examined the experiences of university students attending classes in three formats: in person; through a telepresence robot; and via distance learning tools such as livestreaming, recorded lectures and calling into class with questions.
Findings were published in Robotics and Automation Letters.
The preferences of the 18 engineering students who were studied were split between distance learning tools, or DLTs, and attending in person. Instructors of the four courses in the study uniformly preferred teaching students in person.
But the instructors felt telepresence robots were preferable to distance learning tools for remote learning, and the students noted the robots’ ability to keep them more engaged, expressive and self-aware.
Even before the pandemic, Fitter notes, 14% of university students in the United States were pursuing degrees exclusively online, and another 15% were using distance learning technologies at least some of the time.
“Students engage in distance learning for many reasons,” she said. “There are fundamental challenges in distance learning, such as the need to find a way to train students in the time management and active listening skills typically developed during higher education. Distance learners are also susceptible to missing out on benefiting from their peers — effective social interaction while learning leads to better critical thinking and longer-term information retention.”
The user interface for the robots in the study included forward- and downward-facing camera views, zooming options, mouse- and keyboard-based robot driving, and menus for adjusting audiovisual elements.
“Past research has explored the use of telepresence robots in a wide variety of contexts including hospitals, offices, museums and professional conferences,” Fitter said.
Participants in the study, which also included researchers Nisha Raghunath and Christopher Sanchez of the OSU College of Liberal Arts, attended class via each assigned method for a two-week period. The courses were four medium-sized, upper-level engineering classes — machine learning, software architectures, analysis of algorithms, and computer systems organization — consisting mainly of traditional lectures in a classroom, with student participation encouraged.
The OSU researchers and collaborators at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Santa Cruz, entered the study with three hypotheses:
“Participants generally used the robots to view the lecture, ask questions during the lecture, and move around during breaks to talk to friends or instructors,” Fitter said. “When asked to choose a single favorite method for attending class, nine participants chose in-person attendance, eight chose the DLT resources, and one chose the telepresence robot.”
In-person learning ranked higher than the other attendance methods in every aspect of a daily survey completed by participants except for ease of learning, in which it tied with distance learning technologies. In-person learning was described as more social and individually expressive compared to other learning methods, and feelings of presence and interaction abilities were also better in person.
“Not all students had realized the value of in-person learning before the study,” Fitter said. “Instructors uniformly preferred in-person attendance by students. But there were drawbacks to in-person learning too, such as ‘a person sits beside me and is always talking.'”
In their post-study interviews, student participants generally offered positive comments about the robots but noted imperfections like “there were times when I was not able to read from the screen properly” and “I wasn’t sure about my speaking volume.”
“If a telepresence robot doesn’t have sufficient camera quality, investing in other new features for it may be futile,” Fitter said.
Instructors for the most part appreciated being able to see students’ faces and nonverbal expressions while expressing a preference for remote students attending class using a telepresence robot.
“Despite reporting certain challenges, participants seemed to have overall positive experiences using the telepresence robots,” Fitter said. “Understanding how to use technologies to keep people connected will increase in importance in this world of increasingly spread-out families, teams and classes.”
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Two University of Cincinnati students have developed an interactive dashboard which shows COVID-19 cases and deaths in Greater Cincinnati and other major U.S. cities. Known as the COVID-19 Watcher, it joins a list of options available to the public to track the novel coronavirus.
Benjamin Wissel, a student in the UC College of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program, and Pieter-Jan Van Camp, MD, a doctoral student in the Biomedical Informatics Graduate program, developed their app during the spring when there were no options for tracking city data. Since then the New York Times has added this feature to their dashboard as well.
“People are connected and viruses spread through city infrastructures,” says Wissel. “Our app is especially relevant in places like Cincinnati, whose metro area is split between three different states. The public benefits from additional sources that can provide up-to-date COVID-19 data for the country, state, county and city level.”
Wissel and Van Camp published research on their dashboard recently in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. Their dashboard is also listed on the Centers for Disease and Prevention Control website under the heading Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s COVID-19 Watcher.
The COVID-19 Watcher displays data from every county and 188 metropolitan areas in the country. Features of the dashboard include ranking of the worst affected areas and auto-generating plots that depict temporal changes in testing capacity, cases and deaths. The COVID-19 Watcher can provide the public with real-time updates of outbreaks in their area.
“The New York Times has been tracking COVID-19 since January, and they released their data to the public in late March of this year,” says Wissel. “Our app pulls in their data, merges it with sources from the U.S. Census Bureau to map cases for each county to metropolitan areas, and then visualizes the data.”
Wissel says users of the dashboard can compare their city with others.
“Outbreaks started at different times in different cities, so it is insightful to compare the progression of the virus spreading in your city compared to other cities who started before you,” explains Wissel. “It is very hard to think of things in terms of exponential growth, but seeing case numbers from a city that is, for example, five days ahead of you can give you an idea of where your city might be in five days.”
Van Camp says users can explore the interactive dashboard’s possibilities.
“I think one of the dashboard’s more interesting features is the option to adjust the data by the size of the population per capita,” says Van Camp. “This way, you can compare the outbreak in different regions, regardless of high or low population, on a relative scale.”
Other co-authors on research include Michal Kouril, PhD, UC assistant professor of pediatrics and Cincinnati Children’s researcher; Chad Weis, senior systems analyst at Cincinnati Children’s; Tracy Glauser, MD, UC professor of pediatrics and associate director of the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation; Peter White, PhD, adjunct professor of biomedical informatics at UC; Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics Harvard Medical School; and Judith Dexheimer, PhD, UC associate professor of pediatrics and Cincinnati Children’s researcher.
COVID-19 Watcher: https://covid19watcher.com
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Students who used immersive virtual reality (VR) did not learn significantly better than those who used two more traditional forms of learning, but they vastly preferred the VR to computer-simulated and hands-on methods, a new Cornell study has found.
“We didn’t know exactly what we were going to see,” said Jack Madden, doctoral student in astronomy at Cornell University and first author of “Ready Student One: Exploring the Predictors of Student Learning in Virtual Reality,” which published March 25 in PLOS ONE. “But it’s amazing that this brand-new technology performed just as well as these tried-and-true methods that are used today in classrooms. So at least we’re not harming students by using VR.”
Though the virtual reality experiment didn’t change learning outcomes overall, the researchers found that students with more video game experience learned better using VR than those with little video game experience — a finding that correlated closely with gender.
The study — which has new implications as learning around the world shifts online to combat the spread of coronavirus — aimed to take a step toward determining whether new educational technology tactics, while popular, are actually effective.
“There’s been a big push for enhanced technology in classrooms,” Madden said. “I think we can be in awe of these fancy, shiny devices and it might feel like they’re helping, but we need to know if they actually are.”
Males were far more likely to have video game experience, the survey found, and also learned more in the VR simulation, suggesting that either gender or prior video game experience could impact the success of VR-based learning. Reviewing prior work, the researchers found that video games requiring players to navigate 3D spaces are more popular among males than females.
“This is an interesting finding, because it could potentially imply that if you can provide learners with that experience, then you could show broad benefits from immersive learning,” said co-author Andrea Stevenson Won, assistant professor of communication and director of the Virtual Embodiment Lab at Cornell. “However, more study is definitely needed.”
“If you’re unfamiliar with navigating this kind of 3D space, you’re not going to learn as well in it, so that could be a barrier,” Madden said. “One of the conclusions of our work is that we need to do a better job of asking questions around things that might be gendered, like video game experience. There’s a lot of finer detail you need to know to make VR learning successful.”
The study’s co-authors are Natasha Holmes, the Ann S. Bower Assistant Professor in A&S; Jonathon Schuldt, associate professor of communication; and communication doctoral students Swati Pandita and Byungdoo Kim. The research was supported by Oculus Education.
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Research conducted at Swansea University and the University of Milan has shown that students who use digital technology excessively are less motivated to engage with their studies, and are more anxious about tests. This effect was made worse by the increased feelings of loneliness that use of digital technology produced.
Two hundred and eighty-five university students, enrolled on a range of health-related degree courses, participated in the study. They were assessed for their use of digital technology, their study skills and motivation, anxiety, and loneliness. The study found a negative relationship between internet addiction and motivation to study. Students reporting more internet addiction also found it harder to organise their learning productively, and were more anxious about their upcoming tests. The study also found that internet addiction was associated with loneliness, and that this loneliness made study harder.
Professor Phil Reed of Swansea University said: “These results suggest that students with high levels of internet addiction may be particularly at risk from lower motivations to study, and, hence, lower actual academic performance.”
About 25% of the students reported that they spent over four hours a day online, with the rest indicating that they spent between one to three hours a day. The main uses of the internet for the student sample were social networking (40%) and information seeking (30%).
Professor Truzoli of Milan University said: “Internet addiction has been shown to impair a range of abilities such as impulse control, planning, and sensitivity to rewards. A lack of ability in these areas could well make study harder.”
In addition to the links between levels of internet addiction and poor study motivation and ability, internet addiction was found to be associated with increased loneliness. The results indicated that loneliness, in turn, made studying harder for the students.
The study suggests that loneliness plays a large role in positive feelings about academic life in higher education. The poorer social interactions that are known to be associated with internet addiction make loneliness worse, and, in turn, impact on motivation to engage in a highly social educational environment such as a university.
Professor Reed added: “Before we continue down a route of increasing digitisation of our academic environments, we have to pause to consider if this is actually going to bring about the results we want. This strategy might offer some opportunities, but it also contains risks that have not yet been fully assessed.”
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Self-esteem is a valuable resource for undergraduate international students trying to socialize with their domestic counterparts at American universities, but new research by a University at Buffalo psychologist suggests that while self-esteem predicts better socialization with domestic students, it is curiously unrelated to how international students socialize with other internationals.
“Self-esteem affords confidence,” says Wendy Quinton, a clinical associate professor of psychology in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences. “So people higher in self-esteem have more belief in themselves and their abilities, and that is particularly helpful when trying to initiate contact with people from the host culture.”
Understanding that self-esteem — someone’s feelings of self-worth and personal value — contributes to socialization with one group and not the other is among the factors distinguishing Quinton’s study, recently published in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations.
“These results underscore the importance of examining individual differences to better understand how international students adapt to their new learning environment,” says Quinton, PhD, an expert in the international student experience. “The findings also indicate that self-esteem may be viewed as a coping resource for international students when they interact with domestic students.”
In addition to self-esteem, Quinton also examined university identity and perceived discrimination in the current study.
University identity, the degree to which students feel connected with their university community, was associated with greater socialization with both groups, although not as strongly as self-esteem. Perceived discrimination, the feeling that you or a group you belong to is the target of prejudice, was unrelated to socialization.
Previous research in this area hasn’t looked at these predictors of socialization together, nor has it explored the interesting divergence between the two student groups, a method that enabled Quinton to statistically control for socialization with one group in order to investigate the other.
“This approach allowed for a specific test of what predicts socialization with each student group, above and beyond an individual’s general level of sociability,” she says.
International students often prioritize interacting with host nationals as an important part of their experience while studying in the U.S. But for the vast majority of international students, that aspiration is a challenging and often unfulfilled goal, hampered by structural barriers that range from cultural adaptation to navigating the trials of higher education.
But socialization has benefits beyond human interaction. It’s associated with less depression, lower levels of homesickness, better stress management, and greater life satisfaction. It is not friendship, but rather an entry-level interaction between people with the potential to become friendship, which Quinton measured as time spent doing joint recreational activities, with whom people are studying and with whom they choose to spend their free time.
Quinton’s study focused on East and Southeast Asian students, the largest international demographic attending American universities.
“This group also has some of the largest cultural divides to bridge when coming to the U.S.,” says Quinton. “The independence emphasized in Western culture is often at odds with the emphasis on cooperation and interdependence in collectivistic cultures like China, South Korea and many Southeast Asian countries. That’s a very different orientation to what these students are accustomed to in their home culture.”
But it’s something universities can address, according to Quinton. Anything that fosters a connection and sense of a shared experience between international and domestic students, both the stress and anxieties, as well as the joys and pleasures, is going to be a “win-win.” Quinton also highlighted low self-esteem as “a potential risk factor for international students, one that universities might look for in terms of identifying students who are potentially vulnerable for missing out.”
“International students who fall short of the expected connection with U.S. students are clearly disappointed, but there’s also a loss for the domestic student population, entering a global community, who are deprived of the benefits associated with interacting with people from varied and different backgrounds.
“Domestic students, in this case, are undoubtedly losing out, by not getting to know international students,” says Quinton.
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The Formula Student is an international educational engineering competition in which teams of students from around the world design, build, and race their own formula race cars. The competition includes 3 categories: Electric, Driverless, and Combustible cars. The challenge is not only to build the fastest race car, but also to show the best behavior in endurance, acceleration, or skid pad for example.
As an expert in Inertial Navigation Systems and partner of several teams, SBG Systems interviewed various teams of engineers using SBG Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) combined with Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) to understand what the key elements to success are.
The Importance of the IMU/GNSS for Precise Car Dynamics
The IMU/GNSS provides decisive information on the car state such as position, speed, yaw rate, slip angle, acceleration and orientation to the competing teams’ cars, as stated by D. Kiesewalter, from AMZ Racing: “We required an IMU for several reasons. Primarily to determine the position state of our car. We also needed to have efficient dynamics control & a reliable and accurate determination of Euler Angles (roll, pitch, and heading).” This way, engineers of electric and combustible cars can understand what to improve by comparing the actual state to the theoretical one.
Mastering acceleration is primordial during Formula races. When the car accelerates too much, it can drift, which causes the wheels to wear out. To minimize tire wear and get the most of the engine’s power and performance, acceleration has to be checked.
Tracking the race car trajectory is essential. A circuit analysis is conducted thanks to the IMU/GNSS data, especially position, and helps determine if the car is well positioned inside the circuit or when turning.
Let’s not forget that the Formula Student is a race. One of the competition goals is to go faster on the track than the other teams. Speed is therefore a crucial factor to study, thanks to the IMU/GNSS. But it is even more important for electric race cars, as they need to track the consumed energy.
Driverless Race Cars: Taking the Best of Heading and Navigation out of the IMU/GNSS
If a single-antenna GPS based heading is enough for racing cars, driverless vehicles require a more precise heading provided by a dual-antenna GNSS/IMU. It allows faster initialization and delivers true heading even in stationary position. J. Liberal Huarte from UPC Driverless (ETSEIB) explains that heading and localization are essential for other parts of the equipment to function properly: “When we operate with LiDAR technologies, the fact that you are headed 1 degree to one side or the other influences a lot the position. So, precise heading is a big requirement. And also, localization and mapping: it is very important to localize yourself in the X, Y.” Therefore, implementing a Dual GNSS/IMU in this type of race car is the best solution, as it provides true heading and position, which also helps stabilize the LiDAR.
Heading is as important as precise navigation for driverless race cars. Real Time Kinematic (RTK) allows an extremely accurate estimation of the position (1-2 cm). The more accurate the IMU/GNSS is, the more the car is able to stay in the circuit lane without drifting.
The IMU/GNSS also helps conduct a circuit analysis that determines if the car is well positioned and so optimizes the trajectory.
Less Implementation Time = More Time for the Whole Project
“We have very small test time, so if it goes fast, we can go faster on the track and test more”, states A. Kopp, Vehicle Dynamics Control, TUfast Racing. Teams don’t have much time to integrate the different parts of the vehicle and to test them. As CAN and ROS framework are mainly used by automobile engineers, IMU/GNSS that can be part of such workflows can save tremendous time of development. A clean C library provided with examples is another way to help teams with their integration.
About SBG Systems IMU/GNSS
SBG Systems is an international company which develops Inertial Measurement Unit with embedded GNSS, from miniature to high accuracy ranges. Combined with cutting-edge calibration techniques and advanced embedded algorithms, SBG Systems manufactures inertial solutions for industrial & research projects such as unmanned vehicle control (land, marine, and aerial), antenna tracking, camera stabilization, and surveying applications.
A virtual world may be a feasible learning platform for bringing together students from different healthcare professions and enhancing their understanding of collaborative patient care and knowledge of other health professions, according to a pilot study led by researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine and published online in the Journal of Interprofessional Care.
Interprofessional education (IPE) aims to foster learning and collaboration among healthcare students from different professions, with a goal of enhancing patient care. Scheduling face-to-face learning between students in different programs, however, is one of the largest barriers to implementing this type of learning. The study evaluated a virtual educational environment for its ability to provide IPE in palliative care, which is interdisciplinary by nature.
“IPE is an incredibly valuable experience for health professions students to have, and collaborative team-based palliative care has been shown to have a real impact on improving quality of life and patient care while lowering healthcare costs,” said first and corresponding author Amy L. Lee, an assistant professor of family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. “Interprofessional learning is a crucial component for health professions training, but it’s often easier said than done. Challenges aligning students’ schedules to physically meet and work together are the most-commonly cited obstacle. Communication in real-time via a virtual setting might help address this problem.”
Palliative care is multidisciplinary team-based medical care focused on the patient’s needs and quality of life during a serious illness. Teams of doctors, nurses, social workers and other caregivers work together to provide the patient, family, and other doctors treating the patient with medical, emotional, and logistical support.
The researchers created an IPE palliative care experience in the virtual reality platform Second Life. Thirty-five graduate-level health professions students enrolled in two-hour online educational sessions at their own convenience, creating groups of three-to-six students from different professions and in multiple geographic locations. Students came from five professions: nursing, medicine, nutrition, physical therapy, and social work.
The virtual reality world included three team activities that students participated in by using an avatar, a digital representation of themselves. The first activity was a team scavenger hunt, where participants communicated over audio and group-text messaging and had to move together as a team from one location to the next. This allowed the team members to work together as they learned how to use the technology of the virtual world. Following the scavenger hunt they went to an exam room for a conversation with a standardized patient and her family member about symptom management and palliative care options; here they interacted with the patient and her sister over live audio while also silently consulting one another over group-text. The researchers even developed a virtual representation of the patient’s experience, allowing the students to better understand their patient. The final component was a debrief about the virtual reality experience.
The researchers used a series of pre- and post-session surveys to assess how effective the virtual reality platform was at fostering palliative care collaboration between students. Students also submitted written reflections and photographs of their experience.
Overall, the researchers found that the virtual reality approach to interprofessional education was comfortable and convenient for students to take part in and improved student attitudes about the value of other healthcare professionals. Students reported appreciating the virtual experience of their patient’s symptoms, indicated by an increased sense of empathy on their post-session surveys, and the ability to practice anonymously and without worry about causing harm to a patient or making mistakes during the learning process. Some students also reported an interest in learning more about palliative care and continuing IPE training with their team — whether virtually or in real life — after the study.
In critical feedback, some students reported confusion with the unfamiliar platform and expressed that the lack of in-person communication and ability to observe body language cues were drawbacks to using virtual reality for simulated patient interactions.
“Students came away from this study with a number of important lessons, and we as educators also learned something about teaching team skills in a virtual environment,” said Lee. “While more studies are needed to understand the best ways to integrate this type of learning experience into degree program curricula, the virtual environment opens up a new possibility for removing some of the barriers to collaborative patient care.”
The researchers acknowledge that the participant group was small, and the voluntary nature of the study may have attracted students with interests in palliative care and virtual reality education.
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Victoria University of Wellington Design students Hannah Tilsley and Chamonix Stuart were recently named runners-up in the 2019 New Zealand James Dyson Award for their work on a water safety buoys. These buoy-lights, known as “Nay Yeah Buoys,” measure the water current flowing through a sensor on the bottom of the unit, then light up accordingly using an Arduino for control. The lights go from green for slow water speed and safe to swim, to yellow for caution, to red to indicate that one shouldn’t swim nearby.
In addition to the visual indication, each buoy features a wireless transmitter that can alert lifeguards to danger via an app. Two-way communication allows lifeguards to change the buoy colors during emergencies and dangerous events like a shark sighting to help people to quickly know when to get out the water.
Drowning is the third highest cause of accidental deaths in New Zealand, and a staggering 80 percent of lifeguard interventions are due to rip currents. The device could therefore have a very positive impact, especially for those not familiar with a particular beach. Beyond immediate safety, being able to observe the rip currents through an array of lights like this could also be an interesting learning experience.
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Author: Jeremy S. Cook