Amy Collier, Associate Provost for Digital Learning, leads on digital learning innovation and critique at Middlebury College, Vermont, USA.
First, I will couch all of this in the fact that I only used Effie once and it was for a short meeting with Jen Ross. I cannot speak to the telepresence experience for someone who is working on a longer-term basis (and for whom the telepresence robot probably serves a different and more important social/belonging purpose). With that said, I had a lot of fun using Effie. I particularly enjoyed being able to roam the halls, “bump in” to colleagues in other offices, and control my positionality in the room. It’s a much different experience from being the “big face on the wall” in a conference room. The small amount of agency that the robot gives the user brings a more affective/emotional side to the visit.
I admit that I was surprised that I liked using Effie as much as I did. I thought I would feel silly, and that the experience would not be substantially different from a zoom call. I was wrong. It felt very different. With the small amount of agency the “bodied” robot gave me, I felt a surge of creativity and mischief (e.g., I kept wanting to roll over to Jen’s window and look out). Using Effie felt playful in a way that traditional videoconferencing does not. Maybe that playfulness contributes to more a sense of presence—I’m not sure. I also wonder how quickly the novelty and welcome I felt during the first use would wear off if Effie was a more regular part of my presence on a team.
Those would be fun questions to explore.