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SWIVL is the classroom robot you’ve been waiting for

If you could buy a single new piece of hardware for your classroom in 2021, what would it be? Consider SWIVL, the robot that can track user movement, record video and audio, and connect teachers with students more dynamically than a stationary laptop.

Podcast exploring SWIVL uses, benefits, and specifications

Podcast Transcript
How many times in the last year have you been asked to subscribe to something — a new service, a Youtube channel, or to enticing premium features on an otherwise free app?  Probably all listeners to this podcast have at least one monthly subscription for a digital service.  Yet schools and educators are sometimes slower to adopt subscription services with monthly costs than other sectors.  Teachers want tangible, reusable, long-lasting products for their taxpayer dollars just like parents who foot the bill.  You know, hardware.  Teachers like hardware.

Enter SWIVL.

SWIVL is a small robot that tracks a user’s movement through a room while recording video with an iPad camera and external mic.  The result is a dynamic video filmed from a stationary location, almost like smart a tripod.

Although SWIVL is used in multiple sectors, the product’s main market space is education with various uses:

SWIVL was helping teachers keep absent students up-to-date before the COVID-19 pandemic, but that specific use really bumped up with hybrid and fully remote learning being necessitated across the country.  With SWIVL teachers are able to offer more dynamic and kinesthetic lessons than with a laptop alone.  And students who cannot physically attend class certainly get a fuller experience than a make-up worksheet can provide.

Taking just a moment to imagine SWIVL’s impact in the classroom reveals its value:

If a teacher wants to demonstrate a specific skill, BOOM, SWIVL is there.

And, in terms of differentiation and students learning a second language, I think there is some implicit benefit in having a camera up close to see a teacher’s facial expressions, to read their lips, to hear their emotions in a video format, especially over distance learning can be a real benefit.  And, don’t miss out, teachers, on also giving SWIVL to the students to use.  Students can get a lot of benefit out of filming their projects, making videos with SWIVL.  There is a real benefit there as well.

Also, in rare circumstances, SWIVL could also be used to document certain behaviors in the classroom, not only from, like, a safety perspective but also as a matter of teacher reflection. 

So what does the literature say about SWIVL? Teachers must approach flashy hardware with due skepticism.

I found a 2019 study from Johnson, Zheng, Crawford and Moylan that looked at the use of SWIVL in service teachers in special ed classrooms.  The study’s primary focus was not SWIVL hardware specifically, but the methodology of using SWIVL to conduct their research shows that SWIVl has useful implications for evaluating teacher work in the classroom by an outsider.

An educational study conducted in 2020 by David Perez looked at work at the school of Education at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina.  Quoting his work here, “[that school] conducted a study to evaluate SWIVL’s application to teacher training and preparation. Elementary and high school teachers recorded themselves and reflected on specific skills and areas of instruction. In the study, teachers shared classroom instruction videos with instructors, classmates, and, in some cases, the students in their classroom. Teachers reported how reviewing their lessons brought awareness to aspects of their teaching style, exposed issues, and informed goal setting and teaching strategies.” So, you know, I think this is a different use case of SWIVL than in the first study with Johnson and others in that, in that study, SWIVL was used almost like a big brother looking in at what teachers were doing — and in the Perez study here it’s teachers using SWIVL themselves for their own learning.  A really nice exchange of ideas there.

Perez is not the only academic studying SWIVL.  Another qualitative study done by McCoy and Lynam in the abstract says the following, “The analysis provides strong evidence that the digital video footage was highly supportive in pre-service teachers’ weekly self-reflection and in developing their self-reflective practice. They reflected on embodied and non-embodied aspects of their teaching, in the process revising their habitus as a teacher. The richness of the data provides new evidence on the potential for video technology to support teacher professional development internationally.”

So, another really nice thing about SWIVL as these scholars point out is that once that recording is captured it can travel all over the world for reflection, for feedback. So, I think academia in general is turning toward some of these devices as eyes and ears, not only to benefit the students directly but to benefit the teachers and by extension more students down the road.

Citations for all those works are in the show notes below this podcast.

So the entry level SWIVL product, the CX-3 is $859 currently in 2021. It provides 360 degrees of continuous rotation with 90 degrees max movement per second. The tilt is a 25 degree range with a max of 10 degrees per second and the tracking allows up to 10 meters of range with operational line of sight between the robot base and the remote attached with it.

In terms of mobile compatibility, it’s compatible with Apple and lightning USB-C cords iOS 10+ and Android OS 9+. For more specific information on the technical specifications, also check the show notes down below.

Now, like we talked about at the beginning, everybody is coming up with a subscription model nowadays and SWIVL the company is no different. They offer and encourage users to purchase a yearly $75 subscription to what they called Teams, a service they provide that functions along with the robot that helps for cloud storage sharing among other SWIVL users and other details.

I’ll link that information down in the in the show notes as well but I want to stick to hardware since that’s the the theme of today’s episode. SWIVL seems like it’s here to stay. This is a growing space to bring robots and bring — you know, more cameras into the classroom.  I don’t think any educator really believes that’s going away. And this is one of those early products still SWIVL is still in early days of widespread adoption and it seems like a great piece of hardware for the classroom. 

In doing research for this podcast episode, I came across an article from Forbes about the rise of subscription services in our culture. The article lists four characteristics of subscription services that make them popular. One is price. People love a good deal. Two is convenience They need to improve function for users. Three is personalization. And, four is curation. You want to feel like when you have a box of clothes sent to your house, for example, that someone with good fashion sense picked out those items for you.

Well SWIVL — the robot paired with their subscription service — really provides those things… I mean, we can debate about price but they definitely make reflection, differentiation, and all those teacher buzz words a convenience. Having one of these in the classroom, they can definitely personalize learning and teachers can curate really good assessments and good takeaways from their own reflection. SWIVL is worth it.

Thanks for listening, everybody. If you have any questions send me a, Message and I look forward to making more of these episodes soon. Bye-bye.

Podcast Citations:
Barseghian, A. (2019, August 12). What’s Behind The Rise Of The Subscription Model? Forbes.

Johnson, E. S., Zheng, Y., Crawford, A. R., & Moylan, L. A. (2019). Developing an Explicit Instruction Special Education Teacher Observation Rubric. The Journal of Special Education, 53(1), 28–40.

McCoy, S., Lynam, A.M. Video-based self-reflection among pre-service teachers in Ireland: A qualitative study. Educ Inf Technol 26, 921–944 (2021).

Perez, D. (2020). Mobile Learning With SWIVL: An Asynchronous Model With a Robotic Sidekick. Distance Learning, 17(3), 29–32.

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