Deaf education lecturers at the University of Manchester have been using the “Swivl robot” to help assess its trainee teachers on placements in schools.
Swivl is a robotic turntable that hosts a tablet device. This is then positioned in the classroom and turns to follow people talking, before uploading video for streaming or later viewing.
The reason it is being used for deaf education training is because of the wide geographical spread of placements, making it difficult for qualified assessors to get to them regularly.
Course leader Professor Wendy McCracken, the only professor of the education of the deaf in the UK, said: “There is a chronic shortage of teachers qualified to teach deaf children, but our teaching requires students to be monitored while giving classes on placement.
“This can raise challenges as some of these placements are in locations where it’s difficult for a qualified assessor to get to them and give them the time they need.”
Swivl technology has been trialled with three students in England – in Yorkshire and Middlesbrough – and two further afield in Ireland and Cyprus.
One of the students taking part, Ginny Parker from Middlesbrough, said: “For me, the most interesting part of using Swivl technology was being given the chance to observe my own teaching and reflect on the process after the event, at home and relaxed.
“Once you get over watching yourself and the sound of your own voice, it is actually a really worthwhile thing to do.
“I noticed elements of my teaching style, both things that I thought I should work on but also positive aspects, that I think I would never have been aware of without having that opportunity to take a step back and watch myself teach.
“Obviously, another positive is being observed without the pressure of another person sitting, watching and scribbling notes at the back of the room – I think it probably leads to a more natural lesson observation both in terms of the teacher and the children.”
The lecturers believe that this method has not been used before in the UK on teacher training programmes and they say that it could have applications beyond deaf education.
Prof McCracken explained: “Whether in the UK or for teachers training abroad, this technology provides a realistic alternative to having a dedicated assessor in the classroom.”
The team behind the pilot project is currently evaluating the experiences of both the students and supervisors in order to “understand how they can improve and extend the use of this technology”.
Prof McCracken added: “We are keen to be at the forefront of pedagogical practice and welcome the opportunity that this technology offers.”
The University of Manchester’s teacher of the deaf course has been running since 1919 and is the longest standing in the country. CAPTION: Watching brief: A University of Manchester trainee teacher of the deaf trials the Swivl device with her son, who is also deaf. The technology follows the people who are talking in the classroom (Photo: University of Manchester)