Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog


Reflecting on the survey results

On August 1st, my much worked on survey was finally closed and it was now time to analyze the results. I must say that a lot of the survey results paralleled with my hypotheses. These include people's agreements with the fact that robots do, in fact, make computer science more interesting; how only a small fraction of people's entire class would enroll in computer science when it was first offered and how over 90% of their classes were male; how one of the major reasons that women tend not to enroll in computer science courses is because they fine the environment uncomfortable etc. Sadly, I still look for the reason that women find this environment uncomfortable and many would say that the reason is because computer science is a male-dominated field, but why is the field male-dominated in the first place? The search remains...

A few results from the IPRE Survey

A survey on computer science education was put up a few weeks ago. Here is a link to a copy of the IPRE Survey.

The IPRE Survey was closed on August 1st at 12:00 PM. There were a total of 280 people who took the survey. 25.3% of these participants were between the ages of 18-22; 13.5% were between the ages of 22-29; 21.4% were between the ages of 30-39; 15.7% were between the ages of 40-49; 17.8% were between the ages of 50-59; 6.1% were over 60 years old.

• The main reasons why women tend not to enroll in computer science courses:

From the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2007: Robots in CS1

This week I'm at the 2007 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in Seattle/Redmond. The Summit was attended by 400 invitees from all over the world (~92% academics, 3% governemt, 6% corporate). At the opening panel Prof. Ed Lazowska (University of Washington) led the attendees through a series of polls which were recorded through a SRS (Student response System). Among the dozen or so questions posed to the audience (the above percentages are also from one of the questions), Prof. Lazowska asked two questions that are directly relevant to our IPRE endeavor (Thanks, Ed!):
[Sorry, the phrasing of the questions is not exact, but something to that effect.]

Question:Are you (or your department) thinking about making changes to your introductory computer science courses (CS1/CS2) to increase its appeal and to attract more students into computing?

Fill out a survey and enter to win a free Robot!


As part of the computer science research this summer, we have come up with a survey in order to gain insights about the human perspectives on various aspects of computing. Please follow the link below and take a few minutes to complete the survey:

Fill out the Survey

Thank you for taking the time to participate in this important research.

Student Reaction to a Computer Science Course Using Robots

At Bryn Mawr College and Georgia Technological Institute this past year, an introductory computer science class was completely revamped. All students received a robot called a Scribbler, which they then used as a tool to learn the subject of computer science. (To give you a sense of the robots, they are blue and disk-shaped, of diameter approximately six inches, with two motorized wheels and light and infrared sensors and a few other capabilities.) The project was funded by a Microsoft grant. At the end of the semester at Bryn Mawr, the final class assignment was to write a reaction paper on their personal experience of the course. Professor Deepak Kumar, who had assigned the paper, then compiled the twenty-two papers he received into a booklet. I read over the twenty-two essays, and in doing so I noticed and jotted down a number of common, recurring themes in the essays which I would like to describe here.

Initial thoughts about Alice

While looking through Google for articles to add to the database, I came across one that describes middle school student experiences with Alice. Alice was developed by Carnegie Mellon University to introduce computer science to students in a fun, interactive manner and they do so by creating a 3D animated programming interface. After learning that Alice was successful in attracting students to computer science, I played around with Alice myself. Even though I enjoyed it, it strikes me that Alice may lead to turning students away from computer science.

Studies show that Alice has been capable of increasing student interests in computer science. While this is seen as advancement in the field, I think it may have a drawback. Alice is an attractive interface and therefore is easily able to hook students on to computers. Therefore, even though Alice may be able to lead students into taking more computer science, further courses in computer science may end up disappointing students if they do not find it attractive enough. Further advanced computer science courses are not similar to Alice and may lead students to believe that they didn’t have the right idea about the field in the first place. I understand that this is quite a negative approach towards Alice even though I have actually always liked the idea of having an interactive, attractive interface. Therefore, it would be interesting to actually look into how many students get attracted to computer science through Alice and then actually end up studying further computer science. It would also be interesting to think about how Alice can be used as an incentive to make advanced computer science courses more interesting. However, if studies show that Alice is definitely retaining computer science students and not disappointing them, I think that it is a great idea to be used as an introduction of computer science.

The anthropomorphization/biomimicing of robots....

This is a follow up to Natasha's post...

Indeed, there may be a goal out there of creating the perfect humanoid but would that make it an interesting robot? In the educational robotics arena, the goal is to engage students (who are all people, so far I do not know of any robots that have enrolled for classes, or have they? :-) the engagement comes from being interesting, perhaps entertaining, or both.

R2D2 and C3P0 are interesting not because of their morphology, but because of the personalities attributed to them in their roles.

A more interesting case is that of the SONY Aibo. While morphologically similar to a dog, it really is nothing like a dog, though the last incarnations resembled Schultz's Snoopy and that made it very cute and engaging. But then Snoopy is a cartoonish representation of fact cartoonish characterizations seem to be more interesting..think of a tiger and then think of Watterson's Hobbes, etc. Again, personality goes a long way :-)

Life-Like Robots

There is an interesting short article on MSN, “Robot Boy is here!” (click for link to article) It caught my attention because of its title – a robot? And a boy? In one? There’s something that tends to intrigue us humans to issues that are human, or at least life-like.

The article describes a Japanese company that’s recently developed a ‘robot boy’, named CB2. It has various child-like features, including the ability to make human facial expression, to crawl, speak, see (using eye cameras), and even hear and feel (through many sensors in the body, simulating human muscles and nerves). I won’t go into it much here, but the article also interestingly mentions the use of such a robot in learning more about humans and child development and, rather oppositely, the need to learn more about how humans ‘work’ before we can implement good human simulations for robots.

iRobot Create challenge

John Billington from iRobot has just announced a robot challenge, and the winner gets $5,000!

I am writing to let the robotics and education community know that
iRobot is offering up free Create robots to students who want to enter
the iRobot Create challenge. Please let any students or interested
parties know that all they need to do is post their idea here before the
end of June:

The contest deadline to make your robot is the end of August. We are

The Philosophy of a Good Robot Assignment: Competitions in the Classroom?

One of the first ideas that comes to mind as an assignment using robots in the classroom is to have a competition. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Create a buzz on campus, get people talking about your course! Get students hooked, and engaged! Motivate them to spend some time on the subject! Sounds like you can't go wrong.

But I think that there can be problems with competitions in the classroom. However, you can tweak a competition to avoid problems. What could possibly be wrong with a good-natured, friendly competition? Of course, some students might not do well with the stress. But even beyond that, there might be subtle issues even if everyone wants to participate. Consider the following.

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