Maria Ortiz-Smith

Being a SWPRSC educational consultant is normally a nomadic existence. The consultants can be in five different schools on five consecutive days.Time in the car is spent answering phone calls, mulling over lessons, and listening to podcasts and books. A consultant can spend over an hour in the car, spend a day working with teachers and students in a district, and then spend another hour in the car headed home. So what happens when a consultant just can’t travel? How can they still provide support to teachers and interact with students? Let us show you!

When Maria Ortiz-Smith fell a few months ago, she broke her ankle and required immediate surgery. It was obvious that this injury was going to take some serious healing time. With her days already scheduled to be in various districts, Ortiz-Smith knew she’d have to be creative in her use of technology to provide support to her school assignments.

Ortiz-Smith used video conferencing for much of her work with schools but any teacher will tell you it’s just not the same as having someone in your presence. That’s when a unique opportunity presented itself. 

In December, Ness City USD 303 had received four Double Robots ( and one Ohmni Robot (  through a grant opportunity with Kansas State University and the USDA.  The robots are two-wheeled video conferencing devices that are self-driving. With the built-in camera, microphone, and speakers a user can be off-site and use their computer keyboard to navigate the remote-controlled robots. The district and KSU have been working together to determine ways to utilize the machines. The robots seemed to be a perfect solution for Ortiz-Smth to make classroom visits for the SW KS LiNK program.

Ortiz-Smith was able to be in her home in Dodge City and virtually visit classrooms in the elementary school in Ness City by using the Double Robot. The robot was in it’s dock in Ness City and using the provided software, Ortiz-Smith would “walk” down the hallways to classrooms much the way that one would use a remote-controlled toy car. Once activated the staff and students could interact with Ortiz-Smith through the video screen. The screen could be extended vertically so she could see the entire classroom or lowered so she could be on eye level with the students sitting at tables. Ortiz-Smith was able to navigate herself from room to room. One of Ortiz-Smith’s favorite moments was “my initial visit and seeing the wonder and joy in their [the student’s] faces”.    

Not without its hiccups, the operator occasionally got into corners and couldn’t get herself out. Ortiz-Smith told of once getting stuck in a corner and could hear children walking by. She called out and asked if one of them could pick her up and take her to the library. Thankfully, the student obliged and Ortiz-Smith was back rolling in the library. 

Ortiz-Smith and her “double” even gained Twitter notoriety when Amanda Buethe tweeted a picture of Ortiz-Smith visiting via the Double and said, “Going to be real honest … robots freak me out. It’s taken me a bit to get used to [Maria] rolling around the school the last couple of months! Awesome to have her “in district” for LiNK coaching!”.

“I love that I can interact with the students, ask them questions about their work, see how their day is going, listen to their academic conversations, and see the work that they produce. I have collaborated with this district for three school years now, so the kids know me and love interacting with my ‘Double’”, commented Ortiz-Smith. 

The district enjoyed this use of the technology as well and according to superintendent, Derek Reinhardt, “We hope to continue to grow our ability to offer more coaching opportunities for our teachers, as well as, offer students who are homebound a better way to be actively engaged in their education.”