IPRE Philosophy

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This page describes the philosophy behind the materials developed and supported by the Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE). In addition, this page documents IPRE materials developed to show case this philosophy.

The Institute for Personal Robots in Education

The Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE) was created to make education more fun and effective through the use of personal robots. Robots can provide a tangible and personal means to engage a student in engineering, science and math education.

IPRE's mission is broad: to employ robots in education at all levels from middle school to graduate school. Our initial target, however, is introductory undergraduate computer science. IPRE's investigators expect to show that by empowering every student with their own personal robot, purchased with the class textbook, we can improve retention in and attaction of students to computer science.

An important component of this idea is that the robots for these courses must be reliable and inexpensive so that every student can have one. IPRE will keep the barrier to entry low for those professors interested in trying something new. In the end robots are just one way to introduce more students to programming in these challenging times for computer science educators.

IPRE is hosted at Georgia Tech with Bryn Mawr College, and initially supported by seed funds for 3 years from Microsoft Research and the schools themselves. As well as developing the technology to be used in classrooms, leveraging the best available commercial and non-commercial components as appropriate (including MSRS, Microsoft Robotics Studio), IPRE will rigorously assess the effectiveness of the approach. The results of this research will be widely published through regular academic channels.

Philosophy

The main goal of IPRE can be succinctly stated: to boldly explore the use of robots in education. This involves a number of facets, including financial, pedagogical, and sociological. The following is a list of guidelines for our philosophy:

  1. Make a difference
  2. Educational resources should be low-cost and require little or no infrastructure
  3. Educational resources should be open and inviting to collaborators
  4. We are all "educational researchers"
  5. All materials should be designed to make the classroom an open, engaging experience promoting the advancement of knowledge, science, and engineering

To further explore this philosophy, we have also designed a set of materials to exhibit what, in our minds, is best-of-class representations and actions. Here again are the guidelines with our related materials and activities:

  1. Make a difference
    • Although we want to explore all of the issues involved in our agenda, we also want to want to actually have an effect on our field
    • We want to be a leader in this area and set a positive tone and direction with our colleagues
  2. Educational resources should be low-cost and require little or no infrastructure
    • Schools don't need a laboratory, and don't need a budget---students buy their own robots
    • Hardware: Personal Robot---a small, low-cost, host-computer-driven, wireless device
    • Software: OSI-approved, open source licensed, cross-platform framework
    • Curriculum: collaboratively written, free electronic distribution, and low-cost hardcopy distribution
  3. Educational resources should be open and inviting to collaborators
    • Well-defined interfaces using standard APIs
      • All IPRE-developed software is released under OSI-approved licenses
    • Open to exploring alternative strategies
  4. We are all "educational researchers"
    • We provide survey instruments for use in the classroom
    • We have developed tools for collecting data on detailed student use, and analyzing its effect
  5. All materials should be designed to make the classroom an open, engaging experience promoting the advancement of knowledge, science, and engineering
    • Attraction: we should help bring into the field a larger number of students
    • Retention: we should help keep a larger number of students in the field
    • Gender imbalance: we should help make a gender-balanced field
    • Implicitly cover all of the computing topics necessary for an introduction to computing, but in a language-agnostic manner
      • programming; logic; flow of control, iteration, recursion; variables; functions; objects, data structures
    • Focus on "robots" as a context for motivation, providing an authentic arena to allow a creative exploration of many topics, including:
      • music and sound; dance and movement; art; image processing; artificial intelligence; artificial life; perception; human-computer interface; interface design; speech and text

Many of these are independent of the use of a robot in the classroom. This fact acknowledges that the issues are broad and will encompass many topics. The introduction of a robot, in and of itself, could have little effect---it should not be seen as the proverbial "silver bullet." However, we believe that the physical artifact of the robot in combination with a healthy reexamination of computing education can and will make a difference. In fact, the history of educational robotics goes back many decades, and we gratefully acknowledge those shoulders on which we stand (see our http://biblio.roboteducation.org for example).

Software

Our goals for our software are in fact largely conflicting: we want to create a cross-platform, freely-available, open, language-agnostic, dynamic, interactive, industry acknowledged, easy to use environment. We want it to be usable by K-12, college, and beyond. Furthermore, it should be fast enough in order to do real, authentic computing tasks. This has been a largely unreachable goal---until now. Due to the cooperation of a large number of people and companies, the pieces are now in place to accomplish these goals.

  • ECMA 334 and ECMA 335, also known as C# and the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI), implemented as Microsoft's .NET and Novell's Mono
  • Languages for .NET/Mono, including:
    • Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR)
    • Python, Ruby, Basic, JavaScript, Java, Scheme, Lisp, and many others (by Microsoft, Google, Novell, Sun, and many others)
  • Gnome's Gtk (Graphics Tool Kit) with C# wrappers
  • Libraries for these languages
  • Low-level libraries, such as SDL (many contributors)

All of these projects are OSI-approved open source, freely-available projects. Together they allow us to construct a system to meet all of our objectives. This allows us to create in a single, portable framework in an environment where all of our effort can be reused. For more details on IPRE-developed software, see our IPRE Software Licenses page.

For example, we are developing a simple editor/shell for writing and dynamically/interactively evaluating expressions. This will allow use to create a set of core functionality that can then be utilized in Python, Ruby, Java, Scheme, Lisp, or any of the supported languages---on any operating system. In addition, these languages can also share data structures. This would allow you to write some pieces in one language, and other parts in another. Writing in one of the core languages (C# for example) even allows the code to run very quickly. So, you can utilize this system on MacOS X with Java, Linux with Ruby, or Microsoft Vista with Scheme---or any combination.

This ability is a new development in the software world, and even newer for academics. We have not been able to construct such a system so easily before. But now it is possible, and we hope to exploit this technology for our pedagogical purposes.

This system can be utilized in ways that have nothing to do with robots. For example, we are porting Mark Guzdial's Media Computation interface to this system. This will allow you to do image processing, for example, in Python, but also any of the other supported languages, and on any platform. We hope that this infrastructure can be reused in many ways in education.

One final comment on software: Some may be suspicious of this venture into new territory. After all, Microsoft Research (MSR) has provided all of the seed money for the IPRE---so far. It is true that we will provide a pathway for our code to work with Microsoft's Robotics Developer Studio, this is not a requirement for users---our code can utilize it if you have it and are running Windows. MSR has been an equal partner in our progress so far, and truly is interested in helping to make a difference in bringing more people into computing.

Hardware

Curriculum

All of our curricular materials have been written in collaboration on a wiki---this very wiki, in fact. We have reference manuals, help pages, trouble shooting guides, and a textbook. We promise to always have these materials available freely for download, and hardcopies available for purchase through low-cost commercial printers (such as http://lulu.com).

More importantly, these materials are also available for anyone to adapt for any purpose. If you would like to translate the text into another human language, another computer language, or for another robot, you are freely able to do so. We want to make a difference---that's the bottom line.