Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog

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.

Through the twenty-two essays, one can gain insight as to the type of person who took the class, how students reacted to the robots, what the students learned from the class, the source of frustrations when dealing with the robots, and suggestions for future classes. The class consisted, in large part, of non-science students, many choosing to take the class incidentally. However, students felt that, through the course, they learned important, basic computer science concepts, such as breaking down a problem and planning out a solution. They got the impression that computer science involves logical thinking, problem-solving, and patience, and they left feeling that computer science was fun (how great!). Most students enjoyed using the interactive, hands-on Scribbler robots, and a number of them even became attached to the life-like creatures. The students did get frustrated with the robots at times, especially over the imprecision of the robots and over hardware issues that were out of the students’ control; at the same time, they learned that it is reasonable that, like humans, robots are not completely perfect. Along with various robot activities, the students also highly enjoyed the one non-robot oriented assignment, which dealt with graphics. Following that, I recommend continuing to teach both robot and non-robot concepts. Happily, most of the students left the class with the feeling that computer programming was important and in some way relevant to their future life, whether in their field of study or in the every day world.

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