Robots improve intro comp sci courses

Bryn Mawr College and the Georgia Institute of Technology are the lucky recipients of a Microsoft grant to develop "personal robots" to use in introductory computer science classes.

Bryn Mawr College and the Georgia Institute of Technology are the lucky recipients of a Microsoft grant to develop "personal robots" to use in introductory computer science classes, reports Inside Higher Ed

The robots are about three inches square and are equipped with wheels and sensors. They will be packaged with a new computer science textbook. The robots are part of a program of the newly created Institute for Personal Robots in Education at both colleges

Traditional intro computer science classes have a high drop-out rate, and the new textbooks along with the robots are expected the enliven the curriculum and make it more interactive.

“Our hope is to bring a whole new level of excitement into the teaching of computer science,” said Deepak Kumar, associate professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr.

Bryn Mawr only recently started an official computer science major but it has had an independent major for about 10 years. Bryn Mawr has experimented in teaching computer science techniques. Robots can be even be found roaming the halls, says Kumar. “Students designed a robot to give tours,” Kumar said.

In contrast to Bryn Mawr, Georgia Tech has a dedicated College of Computing and 3,000 students take an introductory class each year. The partnership between the two colleges will be to test new strategies in diverse populations of students. The pilots programs are design to get more women and minorities interested in computer science.

And alternative teaching methods are having a substantial impact on student success.

Georgia Tech currently has three different styles of intro computer science courses, two of which are relatively traditional, and one of which uses various media to engage students. For example, students might be asked to take a photograph and then write a program that will display all the pixels with a greenish tint. “The media based course is doing by far the best in terms of retention and grades,” Balch said, “and they come away knowing the same basic concepts” as the more traditional courses. “You also see a much higher proportion of women in that class.”

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