Computer science profs clowning around with robots

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Dr. Douglas Blank of Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa., and Dr. Jennifer Kay of Rowan University don’t mind mixing a little fun with education. In fact, these computer science professors know that in some ways entertainment can be a valuable teaching tool.

Dr. Douglas Blank of Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa., and Dr. Jennifer Kay of Rowan University don’t mind mixing a little fun with education. In fact, these computer science professors know that in some ways entertainment can be a valuable teaching tool.

In a few days, they’re taking that attitude — and their robots – to North Carolina to prove that with the teachers and professors from around the globe.

The pair is teaming up to coordinate a Robot Circus during the 43rd Association for Computing Machinery Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) on Feb. 29 to March 3 at the Raleigh Convention Center.

The SIGCSE Symposium is held yearly to address problems common among educators working to develop, implement and/or evaluate computing programs, curricula and courses, according to the organization. Participants have opportunities to share new ideas for syllabi, laboratories and more.

The aim of the Experience It! program is to allow SIGCSE participants, most of whom are computer science professors or teachers, to get some hands-on experience working with real robots.

“Though a strong minority of computer science educators have used robots, most have not,” Kay said. “They are not aware of the educational advantages nor of how easy it has become to use robots, especially during the last three to four years.”

About 20 faculty, researchers, and students (known as “ambassadors”) from academia and industry will bring a variety of different robots to the conference for the Experience It! event.

“Our hope is to get some of the exciting, new technologies into the classroom. We believe that if students are engaged they will be more motivated to learn about the deep ideas in computer science," said Blank.

Experience It! will culminate in the grand finale – a two-ring (computer scientists think in “binary”) Robot Circus. Plans include a humanoid “clown-bot,” a flying robot that glides through the air with the greatest of ease, an “elephant-bot” walk, and even an opportunity to try your hand at a robot ring toss game.

For more information on the conference, which usually draws 1,200 attendees, visit: http://www.sigcse.org/sigcse2012.

For more information on the Robot Experience It! program, visit http://www.experience-it.org.

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