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Aaron Fischer, assistant professor of school psychology, observes, interacts, engages and intervenes in rural classrooms through telepresence technology.

By Jana Cunningham

From his office in the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex, Aaron Fischer, assistant professor of school psychology, works with teachers, administrators and young students more than 300 miles away at Crimson View Elementary in St. George, Utah. He’s not using Skype or FaceTime, and he is not on a conference call, he’s interacting through a robot that resembles an iPad on a small Segway located inside the classroom.

Known as telepresence technology, it allows Fischer to observe, interact, engage and intervene as if he were actually there in-person. He can steer the device to follow teachers around the classroom and adjust to eye level to speak to students, making him an active participant in the classroom. Importantly, it is FERPA and HIPPA compliant unlike many other teleconferencing systems.

“This technology is especially important for rural schools because students in those areas typically have difficulty accessing specialized service providers including school psychologist and behavior analysts,” said Fischer. “This technology provides access to services that are much needed, particularly for students and teachers in special education.”

Fischer has been researching how well this type of technology works in a classroom. He and his graduate students have been assessing behavior problems, teaching educators to implement evidence-based interventions and working with parents to improve child behavior in the home setting to create consistency between home and school.

“We found that we have been able to improve academic skills and behavior in students with disabilities by using this technology and could get the same outcomes as if we were in the classroom,” said Fischer.

Before this technology, a psychologist would have to travel to and from St. George to meet with teachers and a majority of the interaction was over email. Now teachers can get expert advice and make changes with students quicker because they get immediate feedback.

“Teachers have told us they feel supported and are grateful to have the expertise the consultative service provides. They also like interacting through the robots, which allows them to feel like the consultant is in the classroom with them, experiencing the student behavior as they do” added Fischer.

Fischer, his graduate students and other members of the U-TTEC lab plan to expand the program to Alpine, Canyons and Garfield school districts next year and more schools in Washington County School District.

Jana Cunningham is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at