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Robot Teacher Allows Temple University Students to Take Onsite Classes

Bazinga! Mass Communication students at Temple University in Philadelphia have been taking on-site classes with the assistance of their professor and a little robot named Sheldon.

Professor Amy Caples oversees their activities from her home with the use of a telepresence robot. The little helper is a massive hit and was named Sheldon after one of the main characters of the hit TV show, The Big Bang Theory.

It is a humorous coincidence that Caples also shares the same name as Sheldon’s wife in the series. Temple University’s own Sheldon and Amy also make a great team.

In a video released by CBS Philly, students can be seen delivering news reports in their campus studio, with Sheldon helping Caples roam the area and interact with people in the room.

Sheldon’s Humble Origins

Sheldon, who has been given the nickname Shel, has not always been the sleek and sophisticated robot on wheels as seen in the video. Before the Klein College of Media Communication purchased the robot for her, Caples got creative with a mount, an iPad, and a medical IV pole.

The robot is one way for teachers to continue conducting classes that require hands-on activities in the “new normal” of pandemic restrictions. The communications professor controls the robot remotely, mitigating the risk of spreading infection. Teachers need to oversee each student as they go through the hands-on learning experience but no longer have to physically approach them to provide feedback.

Caples was challenged to find a solution that would allow her to teach her popular Media Performance course in-person without exposing her or her own students to risk. An important part of the course involves students practicing on-camera performances inside and outside of a studio, with an instructor providing feedback throughout their delivery.

“I’m so very grateful to Klein to be so visionary in handling this issue, because I have been teaching this class for 15 years and it’s a big part of our curriculum and the thought that we would be somehow shortchanging students by changing it so radically for reasons that are no fault of theirs — that’s what was painful to me,” Caples explained.

A Worthy Sidekick

Sheldon has been a massive help in safely connecting Caples with her students as they move through the studio.

Mass Communications junior Camyron Decosti shared with CBS Philly how funny it is to see Caples approach them with the little robot, and that Sheldon is useful because their professor is “able to come over and talk to us.”

“You really lose a huge part of the pedagogy which is life in the studio, life in the control room,” Caples explained. “I feel really grateful that, for the students who can do it, can come to campus and learn the business from the inside out.”

Another student, senior Jane Vitelli, expressed gratitude for being able to fully experience the class despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic. 

“I’m just so thankful we can have an in-person experience, especially for this type of class that’s all hands-on and performance-based,” she said.