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Moving Towards A More Systems Approach In A Robotics Based Introductory Engineering Course At Mount Holyoke College

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Early College Retention Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.948.1 - 10.948.16



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Paper Authors

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Wayne Burleson

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Theodore Djaferis

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Paul Dobosh

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Orin Hoffman

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

“Moving Towards a More Systems Approach in a Robotics Based Introductory Engineering Course at Mount Holyoke College”

Orin Hoffman, Paul Dobosh, Theodore Djaferis, Wayne Burleson

Mount Holyoke College, Mount Holyoke College, University of Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts

Abstract Introducing engineering principles and practices to students in an all-female liberal arts institution is a challenging task. This paper documents the challenges and progress made in developing and teaching a robotics based introductory engineering course at Mount Holyoke College. The course was offered for the first time in Spring '04 and, after modifications, was offered again in Fall '04. Though the hands-on design experience of building an autonomous robot proved successful in the first version of the course, we found that the time and frustration involved in programming autonomous robots prevented students from being exposed to a wider array of engineering problems and skills. Through the development of wireless communication and tele-operation laboratory modules, we hope to shift the focus away from the programming complexities involved in an autonomous robot competition and towards the robotic system itself, allowing students to more fundamentally explore both component and system issues. At the component level, students in the second course are more substantively exposed to electronics and modeling while the coupling of the new laboratory modules with novel teaching pedagogies provides an opportunity to explicitly address systems issues such as component integration, communication, and sensor networks. As motivating female engineers is our guiding priority, it is the goal of this course to combine the strengths of a hands-on design course with a rigorous introduction to necessary tools, intuitions, and critical thinking that will help enable the student to grapple with many different engineering problems both in academia and the real world.

1. Introduction and background Over the past ten years, several colleges and universities have experimented with using robotic platforms as a means to introduce students to the practice of engineering [1]. Different courses choose different robotic systems, and we chose to use the popular Handyboard robotic platform developed by Martin [10]. Some courses take the form of mini-capstone courses, requiring several pre-requisite courses in electronics and/or programming [5]. Other courses are purely introductory, requiring no pre-requisites. Especially at liberal arts institutions, most of these courses have used the robotic platforms as means to introduce the “big ideas” of engineering: iterative design, ideal versus real world designs, design tradeoffs, and handling complexity [4].

However, while students leaving these courses have had a broad exposure to both hardware and software as well as a hands on introductions to some of the “big ideas”, they still lack certain engineering strategies and intuitions. Our experience in teaching the first version of the Mount Holyoke course validated this. Specifically, students had a limited “functional” understanding of the hardware they had used, and oftentimes they

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition” Copyright  2005, American society for Engineering Education

Burleson, W., & Djaferis, T., & Dobosh, P., & Hoffman, O. (2005, June), Moving Towards A More Systems Approach In A Robotics Based Introductory Engineering Course At Mount Holyoke College Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14526

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