■ New course brings the future into the present as students learn robotics.
From forming an idea, finding the problem, and creating a solution, to watching it move along autonomously, the robotics class teaches what it means to think critically.
How does one really learn what it means to think critically? Critical thinking is a skill that is grows over time, as well as in experience. There are two classes on campus that teach these skills in a unique manner, Introduction to Robotics, and Robotics Programming. These classes emphasize the importance of learning those critical skills in a way that can be immediately applied.
“The students will develop a variety of skills, from mechanical, to logical, to programming, to critical thinking, to strategy, to sportsmanship, and most important – gracious professionalism,” says robotics professor Eric Mack.
Robotics is a field numerous scientists have been following for a while. It fascinates them because of the ability for a machine to operate autonomously. But, what is a robot? “A robot is a reprogrammable, multi-functional machine capable of sensing its environment and responding, using motors and actuators under software control,” Mack said. Modern robots are put into positions of labor that either may be too dangerous for humans to operate, or even too tedious for many to work with. Robots and machines have come to replace many workers in factories, but not to demean the workers, but to protect their safety and welfare.
The Robotics class came to TMC because of the love and passion of Mack and his daughters, who are also students at TMC. Mack has been passionate robotics and computers for over 30 years. In that time, he has built many robots and developed several software products. This experience has taught him many lessons about problem solving, and doing business in our modern world. Mack was not just a businessman in the computer software industry, but also coached robotics teams. These teams would compete in arenas where robots have to perform certain tasks. Building robots to perform these tasks took tremendous skill, and critical thinking. “Intro to Robotics was originally designed to be a problem solving class,” Mack said. “That happens to use robots as the vehicle for problem solving.” The students of these classes are given hands-on experience with robots. These experiences give students a foundation to fall back on when put in a situation that calls for critical thinking. “The robotics class is practical for life outside robotics, and teaches how to learn from experience. And based off the results, tells me how well did I perform a certain task,” says TMC student Stephanie Hydanus.
The robotics class has given students a chance to see progress and immediately use the skills they are learning. And many of the students enjoy seeing the immediate results of this type of learning. Even though it may be a computer class, and seen to be a class for computer science majors. “It is a computer class accessible for those who don’t know about computers,” says TMC student Allison Pari.
Introduction to Robotics, and Robotics Programming have been great tools for many students on campus. They have loved the class and the different angle on critical thinking.
The immediate application is what entices most of the students towards this class. Of the students interviewed, they would recommend this class to other students. As of right now the Robotics classes will be offered again pending student interest. If you are interested in taking either CIS 128 Intro to Robotics, which fulfills CIS 100 requirement, or CIS 328 Robotics Programming, please make your interest known to either Professor Mack or Dr. Eickemeyer.
For more information on the robotics program please go to: www.masters.edu/robotics.