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Service Learning Through Robotics

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 9

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Uma Balaji Fairfield University

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Dr. Uma Balaji received her Ph. D from University of Victoria, B.C., Canada in Electrical Engineering. She was a Canadian Common Wealth Scholar. Her research focused in novel modelling techniques to design components for wireless and satellite applications. Some of the components designed and fabricated by her include RF power amplifiers, antennas and filters. Another area of her research and teaching interest is Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC). Prior to joining Fairfield, she is a recipient of the University Grants Award from IEEE EMC society to develop and teach a course on EMC. She is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and a Professional Member of ASEE. She was the Chair of the Affinity group - IEEE Women in Engineering of Long Island Section, NY in 2012 and 2013 and Vice Chair of Educational Activities Committee, LI section. Her research interests include Design of Radio Frequency and Microwave Components, Antennas, RF power Amplifiers, Electromagnetic Compatibility and Signal Integrity. She teaches the following courses: Electric Circuits, Electronic devices and Circuits, Signals and Systems, Electromagnetic Compatibility, Communication Systems and Numerical Methods in Engineering

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The need for STEM education initiatives particularly in low-income and underperforming school districts has been well documented. The purpose of this work was to provide a service- learning opportunity to undergraduate engineering students through a course on robotics. The students in a course titled “Robots” participated in mentoring middle school children in the after-school program at the local community center during the spring of 2020. The course was offered to students majoring in mechanical or electrical engineering. The course learning outcomes included ability to develop lesson plans to engage in mentoring based on the educational background of mentees. The class met once a week with the instructor for learning and planning for an activity with the mentees and a meeting was arranged following this, with the mentees. Students in the course prepared a journal on the mentoring activity that included a reflection on their engagement with mentees. They mentored middle school children to develop an obstacle avoiding robot using Arduino platform. Commercial kits from LEGO Mindstorms or VEX Robotics are often used to deliver desired learning outcomes and students in K-12 participate in competitions organized by them. In the current work, the robotics activity served youth populations from underperforming school district with the objective of motivating middle school children in STEM fields through activities that foster creativity, fun and learning. Arduino was chosen to engage children in development of mobile robot as it is easy to use and an affordable open source platform. Literature has shown success with Arduino based learning activity among middle school students. For students in the course the objective was to provide service opportunities, project activities and a setting to engage in communicating engineering topics to audiences who were not exposed to technology at this level, an ABET student outcome. Twelve students took this course and mentored twelve middle school children. All the mentees successfully developed the obstacle avoiding robot by engaging with their mentors within eight weeks. A plan to bring the mentees to school Laboratory to demonstrate working programmable Robots could not take place due to ongoing pandemic. Mechanical engineering students, comprising two-thirds in the course, were not familiar with Arduino platform. A pre-course survey helped the instructor to plan the course based on the self-assessment on topics covered in the course. A post-course survey was carried out to assess experience on the mentoring activity and the service-learning approach. The work showed that students in the course gained a greater sense of volunteerism, improved their communication ability and are confident in combining their knowledge and skills to create an integrated system as demonstrated by the obstacle avoiding robot. Due to the ongoing pandemic eight weeks of instruction was conducted online through synchronous class meetings and asynchronous video recordings made available by the instructor. Student plans of design projects, such as robotic arm, mobile camera and other robots were presented online to class. A future run of the course plans to address the shortcomings due to remote learning and improve student learning outcomes.

Balaji, U. (2021, July), Service Learning Through Robotics Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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