Ideal and Real Systems
A Study of Notions of Control in Undergraduates Who Design Robots
Fred G. Martin
This chapter presents a study of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) undergraduate students' notions of control as embodied in the task of designing autonomous robots that perform in a competitive event. These robots were built by students who participated in the LEGO Robot Design Competition, a hands- on, workshop-like course that takes place every January at MIT.1
In the course, students are given a kit of parts with which to build their robots. The kits include a custom microprocessor board for control of the robot; LEGO Technic gears, beams, axles, and bricks for the structural work; and assorted electronic components for building sensors and other related parts. In addition to this specially designed robot-building kit, students are given the specifications for a competitive task to be performed by their robot. The job of the students, then, is to learn how to use the materials in their kits through the process of designing, constructing, and debugging a robot of their own conception. At the end of the 4-week course, the students' robots compete in a public event that draws an audience of several hundred people, including MIT students and faculty, local parents and their children--who all become excited robotic enthusiasts for the event.
The pedagogy of the Robot Design Project is based on the educational theory of constructionism espoused by Seymour Papert ( Papert, 1986). According to____________________