Through learning centers and distance learning programs, Southeast Community College puts a lot of effort into reaching out to students, some of whom can’t make it to the campus at Lincoln, Beatrice or Milford.
The latest effort—taking class via robot.
Cassie Katen, a senior home-schooled high school student from Nebraska City, is already getting some college experience thanks to a robotic presence on the Beatrice campus.
Katen, a future business administration student in the collegiate world, is taking a college level English class through a program at the Nebraska City Distance Learning Center at SCC  at 819 Central Ave.
Tammy Atha, Katen’s instructor, said she remembers getting the notification that she would have a robot student in class.
At first, Atha admits the idea of teaching to a robot presence was intimidating.
In practice, however, it was relatively seamless.
Atha didn’t have to alter her instruction method much at all.
First off, Katen gets to the class by herself.
She remotes in via computer and takes control of a robot on the Beatrice campus. She then drives it to the classroom and parks it to see the class.
It’s just like walking to class and taking a seat.
Through her virtual presence, Katen can visit with her instructor and her fellow classmates, either as a member of a group or one-on-one.
Atha said she shares course materials with Katen through email and also sends her pictures of the whiteboard at the front of the class or of the class notes that other students get by way of hand out.
Atha said the teacher-student relationship is so smooth, it’s almost like Katen is there in a real sense instead of as a virtual presence.
The instructor gave credit to the student for some of that smooth operation.
“Cassie is very adaptable in all of the best ways,” said Atha.
From working well with the robot, to sharing Google docs with fellow students and doing group work, she just drives in and then dives into the course.
“When you have such a motivated student, it really helps,” said Atha.
Katen said she has not been intimidated by the virtual experience and says others should not be intimidated by taking classes via robot, even if they have a few misgivings at first.
“I feel like you don’t rally have to have a tech background to use this equipment,” said Katen. “It’s been really nice and really easy.”

SCC Robots
The robot program is funded through a Rural Development Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. SCC was awarded $120,582. So far, six learning center students have taken advantage of the program at the Lincoln and Beatrice campuses.
Christopher Cummins, director of Instructional Technology and Virtual Learning at SCC, tested the robots prior to the start of classes. He says overall it’s been a success with some minor issues.
“The robot is designed to take some punishment, so it’s pretty sturdy,” Cummins said. “We had a (robot) student fall over in class. The camera fell off and the student’s view was in portrait mode until they put the camera back on. One of the students just picked her back up. Students in the classrooms and in the halls are constantly snapping selfies or wishing the student ‘good luck’ on their way to class. It’s been very positive.”
Students interested in this pilot program would need to apply through one of the learning centers in Falls City, Plattsmouth, Wahoo, Nebraska City and York.
There is still time to enroll to take SCC class via robot at your learning center for the quarter that beings Jan. 7.