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Georgia Tech, Bryn Mawr College and Microsoft Fund New Curriculum Using Personal Robots at 28 Schools

August 6, 2008

Through the Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE)–a partnership between Georgia Tech College of Computing, Bryn Mawr College and Microsoft Research–28 high schools and universities are being provided the opportunity to enhance their introductory Computer Science curriculum using personal robots as a context for teaching foundational computing skills. Winners will share $250,000 and receive paperback book-sized robots called Scribblers, enhanced with special IPRE hardware technology, along with the IPRE software and class text.

Awards were presented to schools whose goals closely matched IPRE’s mission. Additional grant criteria included the technical quality of the proposed program, chances for successful implementation and potential to support students in groups that are not traditionally well represented in computing.

“Many students, especially non-majors, used to think Computer Science was boring, and now they love it. We found that bringing personal robots into the classroom creates a dynamic context for learning the foundations of Computer Science and makes computing a more social and creative activity,” said Dr. Tucker Balch, director of IPRE and professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Tech College of Computing. “During a time of declining student interest in science and technology, our goal is to get as many schools as possible to adopt the curriculum and help reverse that trend.”

The award winners are: Arkansas Tech University, Austin College, Brooklyn College, Canisius College, Fayetteville State University, Florida Virtual School, Georgia State University, Haddonfield Memorial High School, Hammond School, Harvey Mudd College, Indiana University, Ithaca College, Olin University, Park University, Phillips Exeter Academy, Presbyterian College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rollins College, Rowan University, St. Xavier University, Stetson University, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Texas Tech University, University of Delaware, University of Georgia, University of Minnesota – Morris, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and University of Tennessee. Fifty-five universities, colleges and high schools in the U.S. and abroad applied for the funding.

“Robots are a compelling way to stimulate students and spark their imaginations to consider the endless possibilities of careers in Computer Science,” said Dr. Stewart Tansley, senior program manager at Microsoft Research. “With these awards, our continued partnership with Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr College, and new technologies such as the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio, we hope to accelerate the broad development of robotics programs, making computer science more immediate, relevant and significant for students and professors everywhere.”

IPRE was created in 2006 to reinvigorate Computer Science through robotics. Today’s awards were made possible through a gift from Microsoft Research.

To date, results from IPRE’s work have proven the draw of personal robots as a way to attract students to degrees and careers in computing. In fall 2007, more than 400 students at Georgia Tech chose to enroll in the robotics-based courses, which showed a higher pass rate than the traditional programming course. In surveys, students in the robotics-based courses reported that they were more excited about computers than before, liked working with the robots and had spent extra time on at least one homework assignment because they “thought it was cool.”

At Bryn Mawr, a liberal arts college for women, the enrollment of upper level Computer Science classes has more than quadrupled since introducing the robot in the first course, a sign that students are staying in the field beyond the introduction.

“We have found that students are really enjoying and learning using the personal robot in the classroom. It’s interactive, engaging and fun. Our numbers of majors and students in Computer Science is at a record high. This is especially encouraging since women have traditionally been underrepresented in the field. We hope that these awards can help other institutions make a difference in exploring robots in education,” said Prof. Doug Blank, co-director of IPRE and chair of the Computer Science Department at Bryn Mawr College.

Winners of the grant may adopt the curricula, software and text developed by IPRE, which is now used in about half the introductory Computer Science classes at Georgia Tech, or they can adapt their own. Any school can buy the enhanced Scribblers used at Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr College–an upgraded version of an off-the-shelf product– which cost about the same as a typical introductory computer science textbook, are made of blue molded plastic equipped with three wheels, two motors, light sensors and a speaker. They contain a circuit board that allows for more complex programming, a camera and wireless connectivity so students can program and control the robots from their computers. Scribblers are packaged with the software and the class text.

About The Institute for Personal Robots in Education

Founded in 2006 and sponsored by Microsoft Research, the Institute for Personal Robots in Education was designed to reinvigorate undergraduate computer science curriculum by delivering robotics technology tailored to education and by applying and evaluating robotics for teaching purposes. At Georgia Tech, IPRE is associated with Robotics and the College of Computing. At Bryn Mawr College, IPRE is associated with the Computer Science Department. For more information about IPRE, please visit http://www.roboteducation.org/.

About the Georgia Tech College of Computing

The Georgia Tech College of Computing is a national leader in the creation of real-world computing breakthroughs that drive social and scientific progress. With its graduate program ranked 9th nationally by U.S. News and World Report, the College’s unconventional approach to education is defining the new face of computing by expanding the horizons of traditional computer science students through interdisciplinary collaboration and a focus on human centered solutions. For more information about the Georgia Tech College of Computing, its academic divisions and research centers, please visit http://www.cc.gatech.edu.

About Bryn Mawr College

One of the original “Seven Sisters,” Bryn Mawr College is among the most highly selective liberal-arts college in the United States and a leader in developing women scientists. The College ranks among the top 10 of colleges and universities in the country, and first among women’s colleges, in the percentage of women undergraduates who go on to receive Ph.D.’s in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.




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