Teaching robotics in times of confinement

Written by Ricardo Tellez

20/07/2020

I’m talking here about delivering a robotics course while students and teachers are confined at home. I suspect we are going to need this for the rest of the year, so we better start dealing with it right now.

I’m completely discarding teaching with videos option for a University class because there is no real interaction between the teacher and the student.

I’m talking here about doing a Zoom/Google Meet/Whatever other platform session with the students where the teacher shares his display while he shows a series of slides/demos and explains the subject.

You have two options here:

  1. Theory only classes.
  2. Theory + practice in the students’ computer.

For the first case, just connect to the streaming platform and go for it.

For the second case, you will need to provide some practice environment on the students computer. Your options here:

  1. Students install ROS in their computer. Follow the instructions here. Risky if your students do not have Linux in their computers.
  2. Students install a provided Virtual Machine with ROS. I haven’t found any VM ready for modern ROS versions, so you will need to build it yourself. Follow these instructions.
  3. Students use a ROS based docker. Follow the instructions here: https://hub.docker.com/_/ros/. This is a similar approach to the previous one, more modern, but a little bit more complex for the students.

Remember that you will also have to:

  1. Answer the questions of the students after class. For that what I recommend is to have a Forum where the students post the questions and you as the teacher can answer them. Answers can be seen by all the students and outsourced to teacher assistants. I recommend you to install Discourse (in under 30 mins).
  2. Evaluate the students. ROS to the rescue: ROS allows us to evaluate the learning of the students remotely by making them do programs that work. This is very important to avoid cheating. It is very difficult to copy the program of somebody else without showing they copied! For that, I recommend you create practical exams based on ROS where the students need to apply what they learned to a simulated robot. Instead of doing a theory based exam, do an application of theory over the simulated robot. That is what I personally did for my Robot Navigation classes at the University of LaSalle Barcelona.

Having reached this point, let me sell you the Robot Ignite Academy we have developed at The Construct, which is the web-based ROS environment, where students do not have to install anything, and works with any type of computer. It provides the lessons, exercises, forum, and exams ready to use. Everything ready for you to apply your magic as a teacher!

The question: do you think that we will need to do remote teaching again in the fall of 2020? (I really hope not!)

 

Ricardo
July 13, 2020 in Barcelona

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