Published: March 15, 2017

Because she had hip surgery during the winter break, University of Colorado Student Annie Miller could not physically attend class in the beginning weeks of the spring 2017 semester. A robot and some teamwork ensured that she could attend remotely.

Miller, who is majoring in international affairs, asked her Arabic instructor, Mona Attwa, if there were some way she could be accommodated in her Arabic 2 course during post-surgery recovery.


Arabic Instructor Mona Attwa, standing, teaches a class while student Annie Miller joins via Kubi, a robotic device facilitating remote participation. CU Boulder photos by Glenn Asakawa.

With collaboration and support from CU Boulder’s Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Office of Information Technology’s Academic Technology Design Team, and the Anderson Language and Technology Center (ALTEC), Attwa and Miller utilized a new technology available on the CU Boulder campus, the Kubi, to make the accommodation possible.

A Kubi, called a “simple, engaging telepresence robot,” employs a stand that holds an iPad and allows remote students to actively participate in a face-to-face class and to control their classroom experience by panning, tilting and turning the iPad in any direction.

From their home computers, Kubi students can see, hear and speak with their instructors and classmates using the iPad’s camera and microphone, with minimal disruption to the learning experience. In Spring 2016, a Kubi enabled a student to attend a full semester of Italian 1020, taught by Italian Instructor Giorgio Corda, without the student’s being present on campus.

“The main thing that impresses me about the Kubi is its simplicity and small size,” Attwa said.

“Kubi is a robot, yet you just see an iPad on a white stand (the Kubi) that sits on a tripod. We emailed a link to Annie, and she managed to log on in order to control the Kubi from home. Using the arrows on her keyboard, she could turn 360 degrees to view the whole class, and move the Kubi up and down in order to work on or discuss group activities. I think the Kubi fulfilled the task that was required, and Annie didn’t miss a session. Very few times would the Kubi freeze for a few moments, and Annie would quickly reconnect.”

“Of course, this smoothness in having the Kubi would not have been possible without the help of OIT, ALTEC and Noah Dahm, a student in our class who set up the Kubi each day. I met with Italian Instructor Giorgio Corda, who had previously used the Kubi in his classroom, and Mark Werner from OIT’s Academic Technology Design Team, and they gave me all the directions on Kubi and how to best use it in class. Mark Knowles, the director of ALTEC, offered to store and charge the Kubi in his office, right next to my classroom.”

The student’s experience was also good. “My experience with the Kubi was only positive,” Miller said. “It was incredibly helpful to be able to continue my studies with Arabic despite my hip surgery due to an injury. Without the Kubi, I would have been unable to attend class every day, which would have left me significantly behind in the course. It was my hope to stay on track with the language and not fall behind, and the Kubi made that possible.”

“The technology itself is very simple and easy to use. It was also nice that I was able to control it myself without the help of my peers in class; I was not a distraction to them, as I could move myself and position myself to see either the board or my professor as she moved around the room. All in all, my experience using the Kubi was very helpful throughout the time that I needed it, as it allowed me to be present in class and stay on track with my studies.”

“It was indeed a success,” Attwa said. “Now Annie is back to physical attendance in class. It was really very nice and smooth. I am very happy we could accommodate Annie that easily.”

The Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations touted Attwa as an example of its exceptional faculty dedicated to supporting students’ success.

For more information about OIT’s pilot program, visit the Kubi Innovation Grant Pilot page. The Modified Foreign Language Program is also piloting Kubi technology for  ts students.