DiDIY and Education at the Italian Finals of RoboCup Jr.
Inspired about the very interesting previous posts and trying to see things from a different perspective, thanks to the collaboration between LIUC and the organizers of RoboCup Jr., the Italian partners of DiDIY (LIUC, Polimi and Ab.Acus) took part in the Italian Finals of RoboCup Jr., which were held on April 8-11 at Malpensa Fiere in Italy.
How is DiDIY used in education and research? How important the technologies and mindset that DiDIY entails could be for the future of students?
With these questions in mind, we reached Malpensa Fiere, and were submerged by the enthusiasm of thousands of students from 110 secondary school teams coming from all over Italy, which built and programmed their autonomous robots able to dance, rescue or play soccer.
Even though they were competing to win (and victory meant the qualification to world finals in China), IT students were at least equally proud of the process that brought them there, the hours spent together solving complicated problems, the opportunity to collaborate with their teachers on an almost peer-to-peer basis (and not as if they were antagonist).
Indeed RoboCup Jr. was a very interesting occasion where to see DiDIY in action, as many teams had to work with 3D printers, Arduino and other DiDIY technologies, and thanks to the close collaboration with the other Italian project partners LIUC and POLIMI it was possible to test how DiDIY is used in education. In order to do so, during the event, an online survey was distributed, while all teams answered to both an individual questionnaire and a team interview. Finally, two focus groups were organized to collectively interview teachers on the role they see for DiDIY in education.
All those instruments allowed us to try and give a very first answer to our initial question, and although students participating to a contest such as RoboCup Jr. cannot be regarded as average students (they are a minority), indeed they are at the forefront in the use of DiDIY for educational purposes.
From the teacher’s perspective, as emerged in the two focus groups, there is great interest in DiDIY and, teachers agree that one key element that emerged is the enthusiasm pupils have when they see their ideas transformed into something real (and the agony when robots do not perform their routine as expected).
Another key element is the firm belief that besides teaching something that will be useful for the pupils about informatics, mechanics and electronics, those activities were instrumental to acquire competences that will be crucial for their working life but are seldom taught in (Italian) schools, such as:
- team work (and online collaboration was a key element in some of the most innovative teams);
- time management (some teams even created a GANTT chart to respect deadlines);
- cross-subject collaboration.
Teachers also mentioned some areas that would like the DiDIY project to further investigate, such as the differences in the use of DiDIY in different European countries as well as how DiDIY could help improve students’ dexterity (most of them seem to have lost their hand-abilities, apart from that of the finger that is used for touchscreens).
Moreover, the online questionnaire, which involved almost 100 subjects both professors and students, revealed that digital do-it-yourself gets satisfaction and develops competencies (80% of agreement). Most of the respondants (70%) believe also that in this way autonomy and patience can be efficiently learned.
Interestingly, most participants expressed the interest to continue the collaboration with the DiDIY project, and this will allow us to follow their path in the coming two years.