Magazine article Techniques

Robotics in Education: A Postsecondary Perspective

Magazine article Techniques

Robotics in Education: A Postsecondary Perspective

Article excerpt

Robotics and automation have become vital to the success of global manufacturing. According to a 2014 report from Allied Market Research, the global industrial robotics market (valued at $26.78 billion in 2012) is expected to grow at a rate of 5.4 percent annually between 2013-2020, to $41.17 billion by 2020. This increase is fueled by the rapid growth in automation demands coupled with a reduction of duties on refurbished goods in the Pan-Asian region (Chatterjee, 2014).

As a result, various efforts have been undertaken at the primary (awareness activities), secondary (exploratory, career and pre-engineering activities and programs) and postsecondary levels (career and technical, engineering technology and engineering degree programs) to address robotics education. The objectives at these different educational levels are quite different when it comes to "what and how" robotics education is delivered. This article will investigate these differences, while suggesting ways to increase the alignment and partnerships among these three education levels.

Primary- and Secondary-level Robotics Education Programs

Petre and Price (2004) suggested primary and secondary teachers use robotics activities to introduce and teach awareness-level programming and engineering principles. The researchers observed that students from different socio-economic, academic and technological backgrounds were motivated and stimulated by making the robot do what they (the students) wanted it to do. Petre and Price also observed that students could learn difficult and inaccessible subject matter (math, science, technology) "via the back door" through robotics and teamwork, often by participating in robotics-based extracurricular activities, after-school activities and competitions. Van Lith (2007) agrees, adding that primary and secondary robotics programs generate enthusiasm and learning about robotic-system motors, sensors, control problems (troubleshooting) and robotic-system programming.

Business and industry also find there is value in introducing robotics education in the primary and secondary levels. In 2014, a collaborative agreement between the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore and Singapore Polytechnic launched the Robotics & Maker Academy in Singapore by providing $2.8 million to teach approximately 10,000 students from 30 primary and secondary schools. The emphasis was for students to learn robotics and coding skills to help Singapore become a "smart" nation (Cheong, 2014).

Themes in Secondary Education Robotics Programs

While local school district control in the United States may allow educational differences in secondary education, many secondary curricula appear to address robotics basics and concepts. These concepts are then applied through exercises with modular robotic components and/or through robotic competitions like FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and VEX.

Six themes (two robotics-specific and four interdisciplinary) were observed in primary- and secondary-level robotics programs:

* Mechanics and programming (direct introduction and interaction with building and programming robots).

* Teamwork, problem solving, robot point of view and self-identification with science and technology, which provide additional opportunities of learning within the context of robotics (Nourbakhsh, Hamner, Crowley & Wilkinson, 2004).

Secondary Programs' Co-Curricular and Team Approach

Many secondary pre-engineering and technology education programs teach robotics, but may not have stand-alone, credit-generating courses. Therefore, robotics content may be taught within other courses or curricula such as Engineering by Design[R] and Project Lead The Way (PLTW), or as co-curricular (after-school/weekend) activities.

For example, PLTW faculty at Staley High School in Missouri's North Kansas City School District are developing a stand-alone robotics course while delivering their robotics content through the PLTW Principles of Engineering course. …

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