Broadening Participation for Remote Communities: Situated Distance Telepresence Mentoring through Embodied Communications


PIs: Francis Quek, Beverly Irby, Malini Natarajarathinam
Texas A&M University
Award Details

As workplaces change, people will need to develop stronger and more flexible skills around technology. Schools are one place students might learn these skills, but in the case of electronics, 3D design, and similar Making technologies, many students lack access to technically-oriented teachers and mentors. To help address this gap, this project will develop technologies, processes, and training to develop programs where STEM university students provide distance mentorship for rural students around technology. New technologies are needed because of the hands-on nature of Making activities, which makes remote mentoring through screen sharing or videoconferencing difficult. Thus, the project will develop technology to enable mentors to provide instruction that includes gesture, eye-gaze, and speech interaction through distance telepresence robotics and augmented reality. New processes and training are needed as well, to help the university mentors be effective teachers; this will be done through a MentorCorps program that provides education on classroom pedagogy and technology learning. The technologies and training programs will be developed and validated with high school students in three rural school districts, who will participate in a career and technology education (CTE) course. The course will provide knowledge in 3D design, fabrication, electronics, computer programming, and basic manufacturing; the high school students will use these skills in turn to prepare science learning kits for elementary schools in their districts. In addition to advancing the science of remote technology education, the project will have a number of broader impacts. The chosen school districts in the Colonias region at the Texas-Mexico border serve students who are underrepresented in STEM, and the work will improve their STEM education and work preparedness. The university mentors, meanwhile, will gain service learning opportunities that develop educational, interpersonal, and empathy skills beneficial to future professional lives.

This project studies how embodied communication involving speech and gestures may be mediated through mobile telepresence robots and augmented reality to support hands-on distance mentoring. At the heart of this project is what a situated distance mentoring experience really means. The project is informed by the psycholinguistics of embodied communication where meaning is expressed through gesture, gaze, and speech as an indivisible whole. Four design-implement-test-deploy-evaluate cycles are planned to learn whether and how powerful multimodal language may be mediated over distance through the designs to support explanation and mentoring. In addition to in-lab workshops to test design versions, the project will deploy and evaluate the finalized design of each cycle in CTE classes in three rural high schools. College science and technology students will pilot the augmented telepresence robots to teach these classes that combine hands-on Maker-based skills and knowledge with engineering principles of manufacturing in three rural high schools to produce learning kits for their local elementary school. The scientific contributions of the project are fourfold: 1. It studies the nexus of embodied communication of space, gaze, and gesture with technical explanation, using resources like artifacts for demonstration and illustration, diagrams and drawing to support distance mentoring for hands-on technology learning. 2. It studies how this multimodal communicative compound may be engaged distally through a mobile telepresence robot extended to provide gaze and gaze awareness and gestures in augmented reality that blends the project space of the student and the gestural space of the mentor. 3. It combines the science and technology research with the real-world educational mission of rural technology education, thus bringing context to the research. 4.It contributes across the fields of psycholinguistics, computer science/HCI, and education. To psycholinguistics: the technical implementation enables the exploration of the embodied language behavior on a platform that can be manipulated to provide new insight. To computer science/HCI: the project investigates embodied interaction techniques that enable powerful multimodal communication strategies via remote platforms. To education: the project investigates means to deliver remote mentoring for hands-on learning that typically requires physical co-presence, and advances Maker-based learning to the engineering practices of manufacturing.

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