UWF online students can access robots remotely through Robo Explore Lab

University of West Florida | news@uwf.edu

University of West Florida students enrolled in the Networking and Telecommunications online course can now conduct experiments with robots remotely through the Robo Explore Lab, a new initiative launched this summer as part of the College of Professional Studies Emerge Program.

The purpose of the lab is to engage online students in high impact practices that allow them to apply and test their knowledge in ways similar to those utilized in classroom environments. Dr. Lakshmi Prayaga, assistant professor in the UWF Department of Applied Science, Technology and Administration, collaborated with the physics department to develop the interactive laboratory, which is among the nation’s first to utilize tele-robotics in an online classroom setting.

The robots are equipped with sensors and web cams and are connected to a server that authenticates each user that enters the lab. Online students can access the lab through the Internet. Video streaming allows them to observe and control the robots’ movements in real time. The curriculum utilizes two high impact practices, common intellectual experiences and collaborative assignments and projects, for students to learn content related to networking and telecommunications by having robots perform various tasks related to this domain in an exciting learning environment.

“When students emerge from the lab, they have a concrete idea of this technology and its applications in society,” Prayaga said. “One student walked away from his experience with a deeper understanding of how robots can be sent to gather information in areas deemed too dangerous for humans.”

The Robo Explore Lab was developed as part of Robotic Interactive Learning Environment, or RILE. RILE, an educational technologies company that is based at UWF, collaborated with iSpace, an innovative education software development company, to create cutting edge technologies for schools and universities through an e-learning platform that utilizes simulations and robotics in a laboratory environment.

The lab was built and hosted its first workshop for middle school students this summer. Following the middle school experience, Prayaga then began developing a curriculum for online students at UWF. A pilot test was conducted through an online class this fall, with future plans to expand to three classes starting in Fall 2014. Additionally this platform is also being tested in physics classes at local middle schools.

“This is an extremely valuable learning opportunity,” said Dr. Prayaga. “Until now, our online students in the networking and telecommunications program had no way to experiment with what they were learning. This lab allows them to visually experience what really happens when signals or data are sent from one computer to another by mimicking this behavior using robots.”

Funding for the lab was provided in part by iSpace, as well as an Instructional Technology Enhancement Projects, or ITEP, grant awarded to Prayaga.  The remaining expenses are paid for through College of Professional Studies funds.

The Emerge Program was developed to help faculty design and utilize high impact practices by using a combination of techniques that have been shown to deepen student learning and engagement. The Emerge Initiative is now giving UWF faculty new and effective tools to instill the knowledge and skills that are essential for success.

For more information about the Emerge Program, visit uwf.edu/emerge.

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