Teaching the robotics

It is well-known that ICT has entered into everyday life for many people and changed the way of studying and communication channels. For many young people it is very likely to get most of the information about the course material from different communication channels on the internet. Before trying to solve a problem, firstly a quick search is done to find possible solution, examples or background information. As the everyday communication is partly moved into several social networks on the Internet it is quite natural that the methodology performed by the schools have to follow the same trend and find the way to reach the students in their everyday environment. Of course it is not the total replacement for the traditional teaching methods, but relying only on those is not enough any more.

Robotics and Mechatronics are fields of the future, where following the newest trends and technologies are especially important. At the same time the fields are very practical and lots of hands-on experience is needed to acquire the skills and knowledge. Even several virtual simulations can be performed for studying the system behavior. However the virtual simulations do not replace the hands-on experience of using the real hardware. The following is a practical guide how to implement a robotic course where different studying approached are applied. The methodology expect that the teacher can use practical HomeLab kit.

Issues to conciser, when starting a new course …..

  1. Team size

Optimal number of team members is largely set by limits of using a computer workplace. This means that usually no more than 3 persons fits to work together with one computer workplace. If more persons have to work with the same place they might not be able to participate actively and will lose the focus on the work.

  1. Practical work and reporting

Practical work is divided into labs where every lab has similar structure but different skills are trained. Every lab ends with a report. It is also possible to divide the work within the group, e.g one is responsible for creating the source code another is responsible for writing the report or connecting the hardware. In addition to commented source code the report should also include the algorithm, description of the work, answers to the questions, hardware connection schema, pros and cons of the lab. The last one is a good feedback for the teacher to investigate the level of difficulty of the lab, how interesting the lab was, what was learned etc.
It is important to start the example coding together with a teacher who can comment the background of the functions and solve the example on the screen. Whole process should be written down step-by-step to ensure that all learners are able to follow the process even if they proceed at different speed. One possible lab process structure is described as follows, but can vary according to the specific situation and needs:

  • Lab introduction
    • The teacher explains the new lab, going through the all necessary theoretical material and the example program is performed together.
    • The lab is divided into small stages so that every stage consists of theoretical part and source code development. It means that the source code is developed together with theoretical explanations.
  • Individual work. This is performed according to the lab working guide where the aim, work process, requirements and reporting are defined. Learners are working individually (personally or as a small team) and can get the support from the teacher if needed. The aim of the individual work is that the learners will find the solution by themselves. If possible it is recommended that learners can take the HomeLab kit home to perform the individual work. In that case they are not fixed with the lab time frame and place.
  • Reporting. Learners have to compile a report where they can describe the work according to reporting requirements and as well as answer to team-specific questions assigned by the teacher. Report together with a working solution (HEX file) have to be sent to the teacher by e-mail or uploaded to e-learning system.
  • Inspection
    • The teacher checks the report and the working file sent by the team. The result evaluation is made according to the quality of the report and working solution.
    • The teacher can check whether the solution works according to the lab requirements and can also ask to comment the program orally where each team member has to explain one part of the report.
  1. Group management

While doing lab work in a classroom it often happens that one team is performing slower from the others and thus taking up most of the teachers efforts in follow-up the lesson. Similar case is when one team is getting things done faster from others and gets bored while waiting for a new exercise. Both problems can be minimized if the working process is well defined and the lab guide is provided to the team members. This way the team can perform the work without waiting for the next step from teacher but can simply follow the guide. In addition different levels of exercises are provided in the end of every lab and the teacher can assign the exercises according to the team skills and progress.

  1. Evaluation

If the the ultimate target is to ensure that all team members have acquired the programming skills, the teacher can arrange the team work in a way that all members can perform the programming work and the explanation. Another possibility is for the teacher to pick randomly the member who has to comment the code, even if it is not directly written by this particular member. The final result is assigned for the whole team according to the result of the weakest member. If this kind of evaluation seems unfair an individual reporting inside the team can also be done.

  1. Debugging

Quite often similar mistakes are done by the learners when handling the hardware or doing the programming work. It is very reasonable to compose the so called frequently asked question FAQ section into the webpage to prevent waisting the learners time in solving some common mistakes and problems. The FAQ along with solutions should be maintained by the HomeLab support website.

  1. Competition

One common way to rise the motivation in a robotics studies is to connect the practical work with some sort of competition, where teams have to develop a solution to a given problem which in the end is evaluated together. It is important to publish the measurable criteria (time, speed, distance etc.) to evaluate the final solution. Also secondary criteria can be proposed to evaluate the outlook, inventiveness, cost efficiency etc. of the solution. the task can be also connected to some real-life problem e.g. battery sorter project, security system. Most often the hobby robotic tasks such as mobile robotic for following the line, sumo robots, ball games etc. are taken.

 

The following example is a typical lab guide which can be used for practical labs.

Lab Nr 3. Sensors and analog-digital converter

Supervisor: Raivo Sell

The Aim

To get familiar with analog-digital converter basics and converting the analog signals by using the AVR ATmega128 8-bit microcontroller. To study different sensors with analog output. To perform a simple analog sensor lab.

Needed equipment

HomeLab Basic kit, Sensor and Motor Add-On kit, AVR programming software.

Working guide

  1. Perform the example exercise with the potentiometer.
    http://home.roboticlab.eu/en/examples/sensor/potentiometer
  2. Perform the common “Warm-up” exercise.
    http://home.roboticlab.eu/en/exercises/sensor
  3. Perform the team specific exercise. (the exercise will be assigned by the supervisor right before the work)
  4. answer the questions (team specific questions are assigned by the supervisor right before the work)

Report

The electronic report has to be submitted after the individual work and needs to consist the following structure.

  • Report of the work
    • The aim
    • Short description of performed work
    • The algorithm and commented source code out print for steps 2 and 3.
      NB! source code has to be commented and color coded (“Programmer's Notepad” may be used to get the color code to MS Word or OpenOffice writer).
    • Answer to the question (step 4)
    • Results and Comments
  • Working solutions (HEX files) of steps 2 and 3

The report has to contain the name, lab number, date and team members (if it is teamwork). The report has to be short but concise. The quality is evaluated, not the quantity! Be ready to demonstrate the solution or comment the source code. The report has to be uploaded into e-learning systems assignment section. The deadline of the report is one week after starting the lab.

Readings

  1. HomeLab support center: http://home.roboticlab.eu
  2. ATmega128 datasheet
  3. Sharp infrared sensor datasheet
en/supervisors/methodology.txt · Last modified: 2020/07/20 14:26 (external edit)
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