Students Employ Robots for Creative Learning

January Term (or “J-Term”) offers OBU students the opportunity to stay on course to complete their bachelor’s degree in four years. In Dr. Renita Murimi’s “Technologies for Creative Learning” course, the opportunity proved both informative and fun as students have learned how to program and operate robots to accomplish various tasks.

“The course is designed to investigate the answers to a well-researched question: ‘What learning mechanisms spark creativity?’” said Murimi, assistant professor of computer information science in OBU’s Paul Dickinson College of Business.

The class combines current research in learning mechanisms, programming robots and creating tools for better learning, and is open to students in a variety of disciplines as there is no requirement for previous programming experience. The course provides an introduction to various learning models and takes a hands-on approach to the evaluation, design and implementation of these models.

“In the true spirit of interdisciplinary learning, this class touches on areas such as cognition, psychology, education, computer science and programming,” Murimi said.

The course investigates learning because learning is a lifelong activity, Murimi noted.

“A key enabler of most modern learning mechanisms is technology, and this class explores the use of various platforms in the design and functionality of learning-devices,” she said. “Learning devices are marketed as ‘toys’ for children, and take the form of blogs, online encyclopedias, apps, specialized experiments and books for adults. We explore what makes learning through technology effective, special and even addictive.”

The design platform utilized in Murimi’s course is a Finch robot which allows students to test their theories of learning in the form of individualized projects. On Wednesday, Jan. 16, students exhibited individual projects including a robot that traces boxes, a robot that traces the name of a student, an alarm robot, a robot that finds dark spaces, a robot that runs a maze, a robot that dances and a robot that avoids obstacles.

Next Wednesday, Jan. 23, students will present a group project in which the robots are synchronized to perform an activity. The theme for the group project is “The Social Life of Robots,” and Murimi left the interpretation of the theme open to the students. Ideas floating among the classmates include programming seven robots to play a game or programming them to choreograph a routine to some music. The students also have maintained blogs of their projects.

“The analytical skills gained from this class will benefit any student and can be used across disciplines,” Murimi said.

Jonathan Meadows, a senior secondary education major from Tecumseh, Okla., said he initially took the course because he needed to complete more hours toward his degree. However, he said in addition to learning basic computer programming skills, his reading assignments have been geared toward creative thinking and, in effect, “thinking about thinking.”

“This course goes well with my education degree because our goal is to make learning creative and interesting,” Meadows said. “There was more in the course which correlated with my degree than I expected.”

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