Virtual Inclusion via Telepresence Robots

Mark Warschauer (School of Education, University of California, Irvine)Robots

Veronica Ahumada Newhart (School of Education, University of California, Irvine)

Project Funding:
Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Hyundai Cancer Institute
NIH, Institute for Clinical Translational Science (ICTS)

Every year, large numbers of K-12 students are not able to attend class due to illness. Extended absence from the classroom has negative and overlapping educational, social, and medical consequences as students may fall behind in instruction, feel isolated from their peers, and experience difficulties in their recovery due to loneliness and depression. The recent development of affordable telepresence robots provides a possible means for addressing this situation. Telepresence robots allow for synchronous two-way secure audio-visual communication between the classroom and the homebound child, and can be operated by the homebound child for movement around the class or the school. However, the robots have gone straight from production to consumer and there is great need for objective formal studies of this practice in order for schools, hospitals, and communities to responsibly engage in this innovative educational practice.

In 2012, we began investigating how telepresence robots are used in classrooms by homebound students, their teachers, and classmates and evaluating the robot design features that matter in educational settings. With funding from NIH, UCI School of Education, and Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) Hyundai Cancer Institute, we are conducting a national study with participants from multiple school districts across the country. During Fall 2013, we conducted an initial exploratory case study and presented preliminary findings from this study at the ACM Computer Human Interaction (CHI) 2014 Graduate Student Researcher Competition, earning a 2nd place win. We were also invited to attend and speak about this study at the CHI 2015 Everyday Telepresence workshop in Seoul, Korea. Since then, our research continues to grow with strong interdisciplinary ties between UCI’s School of Education, Department of Informatics and School of Medicine (Pediatrics).



In the News:   Ph.D. Candidate Veronica Newhart and Professor Mark Warschauer’s paper, Virtual Inclusion via Telepresence Robots in the Classroom: An exploratory case study provided the inspiration and background research for an NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, official English name: Japan Broadcasting Corporation) documentary on telepresence: Interacting with Robot Avatars (July, 2016).


Information of ongoing activities:
Findings from our initial studies are promising and we continue to investigate the effects of virtual inclusion on homebound students, their classmates, and teachers. We are currently conducting an ongoing national study to evaluate the academic, social, and health experiences of homebound children who use telepresence robots for learning experiences.

Interested in joining our study? Please view one of our flyers to see how you can participate!

Flyer for Schools and Families    Flyer for Healthcare Professionals


Newhart, V. A. & Olson, J. S. (2017). My student is a robot:  How schools manage telepresence experiences for students. Proceedings of the 34th Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing System, CHI’17. ACM.

Newhart, V.A., Olson, J.S., Eccles, J.S., & Warschauer, M. (2017). Go home and get better: An exploration of inequitable educational services for homebound children. Proceedings of the IDC 2017 Workshop on Equity and Inclusivity. ACM.

Newhart, V.A. & Olson, J.S. (2017). Social rules for going to school on a robot. Proceedings of the CSCW 2017 Workshop on Robots in Groups and Teams. ACM.

Newhart, V.A. & Eccles, J.S. (2017). Removing social isolation: Can telepresence robots provide hospital and homebound children with the social benefits of attending school? Child Development Perspectives. Under Review.

Newhart, V.A., & Olson, J.S. (2017). Going to school on a robot: A case study to illustrate important design considerations of telepresence robots. Manuscript in Preparation.

Newhart, V.A., Warschauer, M., & Sender, L. (2016). V​irtual inclusion via telepresence robots in the classroom​: An exploratory case study. ​International Journal of Learning Technologies, 23 (4).

Warschauer, M., & Newhart, V. A. (2015).​ ​Broadening our concepts of universal access.​ Universal Access in the Information Society, 1-6.

Newhart, V.A. (2014). Virtual inclusion via telepresence robots in the classroom. CHI’14 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 951-956). ACM.

2013    “Virtual Inclusion via Telepresence Robots in the Classroom”  Virtual Inclusion poster


2016 Pacemakers in Children and Adults Resource Fair, UC Irvine, School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics

2015    “Children with chronic illness in our educational system” Integration of Technology in Educational Settings Colloquium with Education Delegation from Nacka, Sweden. Irvine, CA.

2015    “Everyday Telepresence: Emerging Practices and Future Research Directions” CHI 2015: Crossings. Seoul, Korea.

2015    “Virtual Inclusion” UC Irvine, Mini-Symposium: Text and Data Mining for Interactive Online Learning.

2014    “Virtual Inclusion in Traditional Classrooms” Southern California K-12 Assistive Technology Network Annual Meeting. Alhambra, CA

For more information, please email Veronica Newhart or visit

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