New program at UMSL will connect hospital-bound children to St. Louis Science Center

Imagine you’re a fourth-grader with an extended stay in the hospital. You’re on the mend, but also going stir crazy. An afternoon visit to the St. Louis Science Center to conduct a few experiments and learn some new things would probably lift your spirits, right?

Soon, patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital will have a chance to do just that.

Keith Miller is the Orthwein Professor for Lifelong Learning in the Sciences at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Together with the St. Louis Science Center, Miller is working to create a program that would allow children who are ill to take part in science activities through the use of virtual robots.

By using a VGo robot at the science center and an iPad at the hospital, the child can hear, see, respond and interact with events happening miles away.

“That’s the cool thing about it, it eats up time and space and you can be virtually present,” Miller said. “I’m hopeful this will be a reality by the end of the year, maybe even the summer.”

He’s hopeful the program will be a stepping-stone for other partnerships.

“These robots are something a school district could use so a child doesn’t have to miss class or fall behind,” Miller said. “Using robots as a tool, to connect technology to the process of learning, is one of the reasons why I’m here at UMSL.”

He’s acquired three VGo robots. The robots are housed in the College of Education’s Technology Learning Center and can be used in classes, presentations or for demonstrations.

Miller said he encourages people to stop by and “test drive” a robot.

“One of the great things about computer science is the discovery,” he said. “Having the opportunity to engage and interact with a robot, to learn from it and to use it as a tool is what educational technology is about.”