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.
2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference
Balaji, Uma, "Service Learning Through Robotics" (2021). Engineering Faculty Publications. 319.
Balaji, U. (2021, July), Service Learning Through Robotics Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37710