Presentation for the 2021 International Communication Association Conference. Together with Tilburg University and Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, we investigated if and how telepresence robots affect between-student cooperation. Telepresence robots are robots that absent students can communicate through in the classroom.
The global pandemic has stressed the value of working remotely, also in higher education. This development sparks the growing use of telepresence robots, which allow students with prolonged sickness to interact with other students and their teacher remotely. Although telepresence robots are developed to facilitate virtual inclusion, empirical evidence is lacking whether these robots actually enable students to better cooperate with their fellow students compared to other technologies, such as videoconferencing. Therefore, the aim of this research is to compare mediated student interaction supported by a telepresence robot with mediated student interaction supported by videoconferencing. To do so, we conducted an experiment (N = 122) in which participants pairwise and remotely worked together on an assignment, either by using a telepresence robot or by using videoconferencing. The findings showed that students that made use of the robot (vs. videoconferencing) experienced stronger feelings of social presence, but also attributed more robotic characteristics to their interaction partner (i.e., robomorphism). Yet, the negative effects of the use of a telepresence robot on cooperation through robomorphism is compensated by the positive effects through social presence. Our study shows that robomorphism is an important concept to consider when studying the effect of human-mediated robot interaction. Designers of telepresence robots should make sure to stimulate social presence, while mitigating possible adverse effects of robomorphism.