Collaborative Research: Human-Centered Robotics Experiences for Exploring Engineering, Computer Science, and Society
Involving more students from urban and rural areas in STEM fields and careers has been at the forefront of national STEM education reform efforts for decades. Research shows that engaging these students in STEM activities relevant to their everyday lives is critical to increasing their motivation, interest, learning, and participation in STEM. This project will address this need through engineering and computer science activities aimed at helping 400 middle and high school students grasp the intricacies of scientific principles and technology design. The goal is to inspire and prepare a greater number of students from the targeted population to understand how these principles and design strategies contribute to a stronger educational and technological society. To do this, the project will use a teaching and learning model that will integrate human-centered robotics and telepresence theme-based activities in a problem-based learning and systems thinking environment. In this project, human-centered robotics will involve the development of robotics technologies and applications for everyday use while telepresence robots will enable better communication, operation, and exploration across enormous distances. This dual strategy makes the proposed technological approach highly relevant to the daily needs of students in Alaska.
The project will be conducted by an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty mentors from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Departments at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and from the School of Informatics and Computing and the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at Indiana University at Bloomington. Through this partner-effort, the research team will develop a curriculum that addresses the technical and societal aspects of the human-centered robotics and telepresence that underlie the engineering and computer science concepts students will learn about. Each year, students will actively engage in a 9-month problem-based learning strategy using two basic open-architecture platforms based on the Arduino microcontroller. Students will be able to customize these platforms through design variations and with the addition of new sensors, actuators, program parts, and other technology-related functions. User-friendly software will help teachers and mentors assist students with their designs and redesigns. Through this approach, students will gain STEM knowledge and skills that will be useful to their own individual lives and for sharing with other students, who might be chronically ill, reside in remote places, live in the lower 48 states, or even internationally via ties established through prior NSF-supported efforts. Hence, this project will help student develop technology-based products adaptable to peoples' daily environments, needs, and practices in some meaningful way, which in turn, could increase student's motivation and interest in STEM and STEM careers.