IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008
LEARNING BASED ON COLLABORATIVE ACTIVITIES: A VIRTUAL AND DISTRIBUTED ROBOTICS GROUP JOINED BY IEEE STUDENT BRANCH Sergio Martín, German Carro, Guillermo Lafuente, Elio Sancristobal, Rosario Gil, Carlos Jiménez, Gloria Murillo, Ángel Iglesias, Francisco Javier Magan, Igor Chávez, José Antonio Cámara, Eugenio López and Manuel Castro
Abstract— In a constantly changing and worldwide world, it is necessary to adapt to the new existing structures. The education field is not an exception. It is precisely the need of establishing new designs of academic exchange what motivates the IEEE Student Branch of UNED to start an experimental activity to develop a distributed and virtual robotics group. Given the particular characteristic of the geographical distribution of the students of the UNED, there is a great need of establishing concrete and direct educational links by putting the latest technological advances to use. The experiment has been useful to evaluate and analyse the use of these tools and to propose a number of conclusions hoping that these conclusions will help to improve the student-tutor This work was supported in part by the IEEE Spain Section and the Spanish Science and Education Ministry and the Spanish National Plan I+D+I 2004-2007 the support for this paper as the project TSI2005-08225-C07-03 "MOSAICLearning: Mobile and electronic learning, of open code, based on standards, secure, contextual, personalized and collaborative". S. Martín is with the Spanish University for Distance Education (UNED) and the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (phone: 0034-913-987-923; 0034-913-987-785; e-mail: smartin@ ieec.uned.es). G. Carro is with the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). G. Lafuente is with the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: email@example.com). E. Sancristobal is with the Spanish University for Distance Education (UNED) and the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). R. Gil is with the Spanish University for Distance Education (UNED) and the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: email@example.com). C. Jiménez is with the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). G. Murillo is with Indra and the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: email@example.com). A. Iglesias is with the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ). F. Magan is with ADEX and the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: email@example.com ). I. Chavez is with the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ). E. López is with the Spanish University for Distance Education (UNED) and the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: email@example.com ). M. Castro is with the Spanish University for Distance Education (UNED), Madrid, 28040 Spain (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ). Publisher Identification Number 1558-7908-022008-02
contact and provide a higher quality of education. The results of this experiment have far exceeded our initial expectations. Index Terms—Blended learning, e-learning, collaborative work, Robotics, Self-learning.
n the new European Higher Education Area (EHEA) the student is the centre of the education system. Because of this, the IEEE Student Brach of UNED has initiated a series of activities about collaborative learning based on the creation of a distributed structure of work groups related to Robotics. The creation of these groups aims, firstly, to create a network to bring together the students of the UNED who belong to this association, given that they are spread, out across the country and face the difficulties of distance learning. Secondly, these groups aim to provide the students with a number of practical skills, which will prove useful for their employment prospects given the future of the robotics industry . From the point of view of the student branch, it’s essential to show that the student, with the help of the tutor and adequate educative contents, is able to complement (or substitute if required) the traditional classroom contact with a self-learning strategy which better prepares them for the reality awaiting the conclusion of their academic training. E-learning platforms such as dotLRN are the proof that the technology is sufficiently developed for this task . What this document aims to explain is, from the experience of the branch, that the student-teacher contact can have a positive incentive by means of this technology. Furthermore, the contact is more personal than the traditional model and can complement it. Of course, this transition requires the student to take on more responsibility for his or her academic training and likewise requires greater flexibility on the part of the tutors in order to adapt accordingly to the students’ needs. This training structure provides the exchange of knowledge. Group work, the basis of this strategy, enables all the participants to share information, experiences and knowledge to reach a common objective such
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IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008 as the design of an engineering project guided study of a particular theme or a debate about specific points. II. MOTIVATIONS In the globalised society and technically united world of today, passive individualism has no proper place. Based on this premise is the need for a closer collaboration that is effective and directly involved in the personalised development of the individual within a support group. E-learning can be a useful tool to help achieve this together with the structure of collaborative work. This is why there is such a great need to reform the traditional learning model and this in turn implies the commitment to change all the aspects which involve the use and exploitation the new development techniques offered by telecommunications. For years, conventional classroom education has been burdened with the weaknesses of its dependence on its real surroundings. The transmission of knowledge has been based on manuals that were designed and prepared years in advance and then exploited for many years after as a form of payback. Thus, an ever-increasing mismatch has occurred between the training and the real development of science. This has required tutors to adapt by their own means and mostly unsupported to provide their students with a feasible alternative in order to complete their training. This scenario has changed radically in recent years and now the technological advances in communication and the globalisation of information require a total change in direction in conventional teaching and learning methods. Evidently, these changes do not only affect the tutors, in fact, it is possible that it is the students will acquire a higher level of responsibility in their learning process and have greater obligations than in the conventional system. In the system we propose, the student must “want” to learn. This may seem trivial but, on the other hand, it is evident that a proportion of the students assist classes out of an “obligation” to fulfil academic requirements, simply to achieve something, or to justify a registration fee. In our proposal, if a student does not wish to learn, it is pointless to register for a group. The reason is simple: The existence, development and evolution of a group are routed in the intellectual curiosity of the students. Within this context, the tutor takes on the role of a guide, particularly at the beginning. Later, the tutor-student interaction will increase significantly until the traditional separation between the two roles fades. To comprehend the importance of this change is the transcendental part in order to obtain the success of the proposal at hand. The encouragement of co-operative work in an interactive and permanent way and the real participation in the academic structure of teachers and students and the two-way intellectual feedback are the components of the idea that underlies these types of proposals. It’s evident that the tools to do this are within our reach, what we have to do now is to learn how to use them. We will have to learn through trial and error in order to begin to set up the basis
of this change but it is evident that with each attempt we will obtain greater information on how this new learning atmosphere and its applications will work. Each of these developments will be a step towards the design of a new learning space which is global, more collaborative, less individualist, more up-to-date and, especially more instructive. It will not be reduced to mere academic training but will take on the holistic development of the individual by forefronting and developing aptitudes of responsibility, democracy, leadership and group work. We are at a stage that is closer to the Classic Greek style of education that sought to develop the whole individual within their surroundings rather than the predominant strategies of recent years that focused on an exacerbated specialisation that, in many ways, isolated learning from the reality the student would later have to confront as best they could. The student must now refocus his or her perspective away from that of a passive receptor and become active and collaborative in his or her education. The above lines summarise the motivations which drive us to rethink our views on the conventional learning space so as to redirect and complement with new methods and tools our objective and raison d’etre: to learn. III. IMPLEMENTATION OF AN AGILE AND ACCESSIBLE VIRTUAL SPACE
In face-to-face educational environments, the search of a common space where the members of a work group could meet to exchange knowledge, opinions or ideas it does not carry too many problems. Nevertheless, in a distance learning area, for example the UNED, where this search implies the use of state of the art telematics and TICs that allow the approximation of the students by means of virtual spaces, mitigating hereby the disadvantage of the distance. Generally, these computer systems are known as e-learning platforms or Learning Management Systems (LMS). The platforms mentioned above allow to the students to realize numerous activities without the necessity of having to be physically present in the same place. These activities include the possibility of collaborating with other students well in a synchronous way; this is, by means of on-line conversations, also known as chats, well in an asynchronous way, by means of e-mails or forums. In this case, the teachers can organize virtual collaboration activities, where students and teachers discuss about some topic or work in a common project. In addition, it is common to find other kind of available services in the mentioned platforms, such as: • Agendas. In them, the events or the most important milestones relating to the course or project are shown. • News. Where the teachers can announce or remember to the student events such as examinations, tasks, etc, as well as other events which could be considered as interesting • Tools. It is here where the teacher does the contents accessible for the accomplishment of the course, for example: notes, tasks, etc. • Polls. They allow knowing what the perceptions of the
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IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008 students in some particular topic are. • Questions and answers. The most common questions and answers are usually few in number, but they spend most of the teachers’ consultation time. These functionalities allow centralizing in an organized way this kind of content. In the particular case of the UNED, the Student Branch has used dotLRN , which is a freeware learning management platform available in the University. More concretely, it is aLF, which is a version of the dotLRN application, personalized to the needs and requirements of the UNED. In figure 1 we can observe the main screen of the virtual space, where has been created a News for the community zone, a Chat room, known as Cafeteria, where certain days at certain hours the students exchange their ideas, opinions or simply use it to chat . Another implemented service is forums, where different threads of conversation can be created, and each one with a different topic.
Fig. 1. View of the main screen of the virtual platform. It includes the news, calendar, FAQ, chat and forums services. In addition it also allows the creation of different subgroups of work.
One of the main advantages of this platform is the possibility of creating working subgroups or sub-communities, so that if inside the Group of Robotics, a project relating to fight between robots is created, it is possible to create a virtual space for this group, with all the communication services, news and others. In this way, whenever groups of interest or work are appearing sub-communities dependent on the first one are being created which facilitates the development of concrete projects. Another great advantage of the system is that once a new work community is created they can grant permissions of administration to new users. This allows to distribute the responsibilities among a great number of group members, and consistently, to involve a major number of persons in the global development of the association. This kind of organization in communities allows a tidy and scalable work development, allowing to users to specialize in those projects that they consider to being more interesting at the same time that they have access to the communities from top levels, with more general information.
Finally, thanks to this platform, every member can access to all the resources and have the information in real time, 24 hours per day and 365 days per year, achieving to eliminate the distance time limits. IV. DISTRIBUTED AND VIRTUAL GROUP OF ROBOTICS The theory exposed in the previous points could seem general; it is in its practical application where will be possible to verify the functionality within a short time. Therefore, in the following points the basic structure of the development of a virtual group will be shown, using as example for it the experience in the distributed and virtual Group of robotics . We hope that this personalized approach clarifies some of the worries of the theory exposed in the previous points. A. Face to face group vs virtual group One of the main disadvantages that a virtual group has is that there are certain fear in people implied above to develop the model of learning and the isolation that supposes this kind of education. Another factor that influences is the tendency of the society to not accept changes. The education has a face-to-face traditional approach, and the technologies that favour a way for an appropriate virtual education are relatively new and not everybody receives this new concept with acceptance . All this makes that a face to face workshop in robotics be purposed in which the students could learn the first basic notions of this environment. In this way, we make the student to feel comfortable in a not known subject while we teach them to use their future place of work: the virtual platform, solving the doubts that could arise. With this we make the environment familiar and is avoided the refusal generated by new things never used before. Once finished this face-to-face workshop, the virtual model is developed. This learning model has to face two big challenges: the students’ motivation and the necessity of getting adapted manuals for this kind of education. The motivation of the students should be obtained by suitable models. The experience show us that one of the key points is a suitable participative democracy which allows to all the students to expose his doubts, opinions and problems without problem, and as important as this, is that the answers to his expositions are practically instantaneous, otherwise, a loneliness feeling could appear that will cause to loose the motivation. In the point 4.4 Participative Democracy, this concept is explained in more detail. The educative manuals suppose the second great challenge to overcoming in a virtualized educational environment. One of the main advantages that the group of robotics of the IEEE Student Branch of UNED has had in this aspect, is to rely on members in his organization that before they have been students in virtual environments like, for example, the own UNED. This experience of having suffered previously the problems of a purely virtual education, has contributed with some of the key points for being able to choose suitable manuals and to solve the main problems that the students face in this kind of learning .
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IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008 In the point 4.3 Importance of the storage and growth of quality content, the problematic of the manuals is discussed with more details. Finally, we would like to point that we are not trying to eliminate the face-to-face factor in favour of the virtual factor. Both models complement each other in order of favouring the situation of the students in every moment . The face-to-face element contributes to increase the companionship among the groups and to encourage people who begin in a new world to getting with strength of mind. However, the typical UNED student profile shows people with lack of time that have to combine studies, work and family, which prevents them follow the strict schedule that the models mark they attend. Here it is where the virtual element wins in importance, because the application on-line is available 24 hours 365 days a year, giving every member of the group to follow the contents in the moments that they want and giving flexibility in the studying chosen rate which adapts to his personal situation. B. Starting Point With reference to the abovementioned matter, it has been necessary a proper coordination between the virtual group and in presence at the time of initiating the robotics workshop to a good start. Clearly, the fact, to face an activity that traditionally is practical and that requires a physical space for development, implies that to move to a virtual environment we have to design a pre-treatment of what is necessary for this purpose. In the case of robotics workshop of IEEE-UNED, the only option was going to encourage those who could not attend in presence, to get a minimum content that allowed them to work from home using all the on-line tools that were going to offer them on the aLF platform of the virtual workshop. To that end, it was necessary to a previous study of which should be those "basic contents", because in this kind of project can not begin to collaborate and interact without a minimum team that does not have gaps least for the subsequent conduct of the exercises and projects proposed. It is essential to establish a domestic workshop that meets minimum two characteristics: that is affordable, and has the necessary contents to begin work. The second point is the easiest: to propose the necessary tools for mounting hardware, in the case set out, requires no more than maintenance domestic utensils (screwdriver, duct tape, batteries, and tweezers). What really can become a problem is the economic issue, because one of the ideas with which this project was born, it is based on giving students skills without an additional expense, or being minimal. In this connection, it must be borne in mind that the people are less receptive to joining a group of virtual type if it requires a significant investment in advance. To minimize this problem, from the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, it was decided to combine into a single kit the best quality / price / content. Indeed, the latter, the content was essential to the time that the organizers of the workshop would be decided by the aforementioned mounting kit. The model chosen Home Boe-Bot is perfect for working in an idyllic presence, but also in a virtual one as we seek (Figure 2).
Fig. 2. Home Boe-Bot used in the course.
The reasons for this are very specific: - Complete package and varied of sensors and accessories to integrate in the Boe-Bot (infrared, light sensors, LEDs, wiring, etc.) that made it unnecessary to acquire additional content (Figure 3). - Software designed to give some flexibility at the time of programming Boe-Bot, easy learning, and with an alternative graphic environment for those with little or no programming experience. - A circuit board of hardware that can use as a laboratory at the time of testing the different configurations and connections necessary to advance the robotics workshop. - A comprehensive manual, with step-by-step explanations and completely in Spanish.
Fig. 3. Robotics kit including the basics contents as well as all the hardware needed to start the course.
Moreover, in addition to all this, that kit to take several years in the market, has access through numerous web pages in Spanish, the previous experience of other users, ultimately facilitating the resolve doubts about its operation, and giving new alternatives to the assembly that was originally presented in the manual to start. Once the kit is decided and the minimum content is analyzed is when it can begin to communicate to the participants of the group the tools to use. Clearly, the existence of the attendance workshop in parallel greatly facilitates direct contact with the starter kit without having to buy it, but this is only true for those
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IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008 who are interested living close, geographically speaking, to the place where is given the workshop. For everyone else is very important to be clear about what is going to acquire, and before they do, give them all the information required to not perform an expense that after can not be useful for them. In this case, what in a face-to-face environment may seem obvious or unnecessary becomes very important in a virtual group. As they make an outlay and do not achieve a return on learning or the completion of certain perspectives that are on it, can be the cause of no motivation and laziness, even distrust, which breaks bases of the virtual group and could lead to its disintegration. Then, it can begin to gather the necessary information so that when the student enters the virtual forum, finds it orderly and properly structured and does not have to go randomly Network to find what he is looking for, or loses time analyzing the information interesting of which is not. One problem for all those who use the Internet will be familiar, is that there is a lot of information, but there is less useful and scattered. Here comes into play one of the major tasks of tutors of the group: To separate "the wheat from the chaff." In this way, students can concentrate their energies on learning and developing the full potential of the content they have at their disposal and not waste time, which in a group such as the one described here is a scarce and valuable for the typical profile of the student of the UNED. It also has to take into account the no motivation that leads to lose in a sea of information every time that looks for something and, as it was discussed earlier, the motivation is a very important element in the success of any team, and much more in a virtual one. It is then necessary versatility of tutor at the time face this challenge. Usually in the presence environment there is a reference manual properly reviewed. In the virtual group, the information appearing on the Internet is constantly changing. This involves a thorough review of existing data at the time leaks the starting content, but also requires a periodic update of the data and its notification to participants in the group. The last task will be complemented by the students themselves once they become involved in the group, providing the information that they are discovering once they were familiar with the project to develop. Ultimately, for this robotics group, there is a collection of manuals in Spanish on using the kit; some PowerPoint presentations; a collection of links that expand what is going to learn initially in the workshop; and a collection of videos and images of other developments of kit to show the students what they can really do with that content. This last aspect provides the motivation of participants and generates a fair competition between them to try to design projects similar to those shown or even new and custom, once, of course, that has laid the groundwork of learning about the use of quoted Kit. Finally, we have, in this way, consistent information that will allow all start from the same starting point and move forward in a structured manner and orderly throughout the course. C. Significance of storage and growth of quality content: As we have described above, the manuals are one of the key
factors in a proper teaching virtualized. For strength, a tutorial that seeks to support this kind of learning has to be as autodidactic possible, knowing anticipate the difficulties that students have to face. A manual that claims to be autodidactic, first, it should never give anything to know. In virtual teaching is difficult to establish the knowledge with each student start to tackle a specific subject or to establish the level of comprehension of the content studied. Therefore, the manual should always start from the perspective more basic and the student will decide, if he thinks it is appropriate for his prior knowledge, skips the information in the manual that he may prove redundant. Another important factor is not never seen any step resolution of a problem as trivial. For someone who is writing a manual and with expertise in a given field, the development of a step take he may seem obvious and write directly to the outcome. However, what for him is obvious to anyone newcomer in this area can not, and does not see intermediate steps to reach a certain solution can lead to the desperation if the student is unable to give an answer. Such circumstances cause frustration in people who face a virtual learning and at last eliminate the initial motivation with which they had begun. So the end result is the failure of learning, and in this case, the failure of the group. A final factor that helps the frustration of "virtual" students is the confrontation to bugs of a text. When a student is confronted with a bug without knowing that there is, he can lose a lot of time on trying to discover what he is doing wrong when in fact his development is correct. It is inevitable that there is some bug in a manual, the important thing here is to make the student feel involved in its correction, making him see that reality he has not lost time, unless he has worked in that contents are the end of better quality, and he has helped his team members (current and future). One of the ways to correct the bug is directly on the manual or to have a list of them. Thus, the student can see his direct involvement in the project, and how this collaboration has really helped to improve the group. Taking into account the foregoing, it becomes evident the need to create tutorials themselves and depend on others as little as possible. With this model, we will be working on content done by ourselves and we can to involve all students in the group, making them feel involved in their development, increasing their craving for collaboration and their motivation. To do this, and because of being distributed robotics group of the IEEE Student Branch of UNED, since it belongs to a university with offices throughout Spain and with students who sometimes join the group in the distance, it is very important to homogenize the content with which is working. To achieve this, we have a library / archive on-line where keep all the manuals that are used. In addition, there is available a small initial manual where indicates what order is due to continue on tutorials for a suitable learning. In addition, it encourages participation of the group in creating new manuals at the same time projects are done, in which seek to explain in detail the steps taken and difficulties found. However, this is pursuing several goals. On the one hand,
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IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008 it promotes collaboration and involvement of all members of the group in order to achieve quality content to help fellow workers to acquire knowledge in the field of robotics. On the other hand, it is possible to have available a knowledge repository for all members. A new member will acquire the same knowledge than the classroom, so that, starting from scratch at a later stage the rest of the group, does not become an obstacle to cooperate actively in the development, if not quite the contrary: his perspective as a "beginner" will let check all those who have collaborated in the drafting of the texts, whether these are correct and suitable for help a new member in the acquisition of skills necessary for the group to continue to make progress in the future. Another reason, which makes necessary to have this repository on-line, is the characteristics of a working group at UNED. It means that members could not carry the same degree of participation steadily, as most of them have professional and family obligations that obstruct the way of involvement compared with students from other universities, where the profile is the common student without other professional liability. It is therefore important to promote a member who has been "off-line" for a while, could to catch up with what the group has moved forward with the only complication of connecting to the virtual group of robotics and downloaded the progress that he has not been available. As round off this paragraph, it is remarkable free textbooks and manuals that we provide the group. Information and knowledge are managed not seek monetary gain, if not to equip students practical skills that will enable them to better develop their future role as engineers. Thus, it is possible to involve students in the development of the various texts allowing authors and users move towards the same direction: to obtain suitable and quality content. The only benefited from the work is the group. D. Participatory democracy The development of this project is proving that if there is a real motivation for learning by employees (whether students or tutors) of the group, this system allows all opinions to be heard without hindrance whatsoever . It is usual in the classroom teaching, the existence of a shy attitude when comes to raising suggestions, criticisms, questions or concerns by the student, and also makes more flexible and focuses new perspectives on the part of tutors. This problem becomes vague, and goes away, in a virtual environment. The lack of physical boundaries gives freedom for the participants to move so comfortable at the time of making new approaches and suggestions. Hence, we mean by "participatory democracy". In a space of this nature no one is more than other, the experience is global, shared, disappear labels and the respect is mutual. The goal is collaboration in the group. Everyone contributes and proposes and it consults the wishes of each one making decisions that benefit the majority, but without discarding projects proposed definitively . This model of action, of course, has an obligation added, the student must want to participate, it means, no one is obliged in the group. To a greater or lesser extent, individual interests are grouped to
achieve different personal goals. This system also allows reducing conflicts generated by the indifference that sometimes arises in the classroom. Obviously, it also implies greater responsibility on the part of all those involved. Students have to be aware that they will be involved in the project; the tutors will have to be prepared to make more flexible the initial project based on referrals it is taking as participants propose suggestions, criticisms or conducting take decisions. In practice, it has been seen in the workshop of robotics every day. Not only because of the addition of new students who discuss and give new approaches to contents already existing, but they are involved in proposing new activities to enhance or complete existing ones. It is curious how this system facilitates the realization in parallel of practical activities in classroom, maintaining the characteristic of participatory democracy and annulling the timidity of which we spoke initially. The key examples of the expression of this system at the workshop of robotics have come primarily from the hand of the treatment of the design of electrical circuits that appears in the basic Spanish manuals that are used in it. It is clear for everyone the existence of certain errors in them, well, the participants have been slowly bringing new designs for the circuits with initial errors, and bringing new solutions to them, in many cases more didactic and understandable that the initial; and collating group these potential solutions . Obviously this enriches and facilitates greatly the understanding of the topics to be studied, and generates an intellectual feedback that enables those who are incorporated, do not make the same mistakes that were made by those who already started. Ultimately, this system blurs the boundary student / tutor and turns this last one into a "conductor" what marks the starting line and a basic structure to continue, rather than the typical professor paternalistic, thereby allowing the student to develop intellectual manner without any restrictions other than those of their curiosity and motivation to learn. E. The moderator tutor The developed in the previous section leads us inevitably to modify the view of the traditional tutor in this kind of groups. We could say that his role would be rather moderating in the sense that their attitude should be to lead and not to limit in about the ideas an added suggestions. If possible, their role, as we have pointed before will be the most important in the beginning of the process. It could show in a structured way the current course and get the qualified and enough stuff in which the students find the base to support them to work subsequently. Obviously, he should explain the first steps of the work of the group and solve the initial questions in that respect. But then finishes the resemblance with traditional tuition. In this point is the student who have to start evaluating the previously mentioned staff and suggesting in base of the initial structure possible changes or solutions in order to start making progress in learning. For this reason, the tutor becomes a moderator (Figure 4). From this moment on his occupation is supervising and adopting a conciliatory role in time to join efforts and suggestions of the different students, ruling out in a diplomatic
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IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008 and well-reasoned way those that make difficult the learning or slow down the progress and supporting those others that improve and consolidate it.
Fig. 4. Project-guided learning scheme where there is a moderator that guide the evolution of the learning through suggestions, and where students have an active participation being even able of become also a moderator.
It is possible as well that the existence of more than one moderating tutor would be favourable in this cases. Even in the beginning, it can have the role of students that have given signs of a special attitude to involve in the group, or enough knowledge, which can help the rest of the group. This structure fades more the figure of the teacher-student making easier that previously mentioned idea. In this sense, it has been tested that until three more moderating figures can work with this criterion because the odd number sometimes helps to solve doubtful suggestions in a democratic way, and slow down so much the process of making decisions. More than that number make us fall in a so much hierarchical process in time to evaluate suggestions, and in a virtual environment as this one the decisions must be quick in order not to create apathy in the students who are taking part. So then, in any moment the fact of the existence of three moderators can create a conflict if one of them is inflexible, but undoubtedly someone has to resolve in punctual cases and manage the different projects in order to adapt to time and space (do not forget that support server has limited space). A possible solution for this kind of situations is to change from time to time the moderators depending on the guideline to follow. In the project we are talking about in some points of it is better that the moderator be someone with electronics knowledge but in others in preferable that has programming knowledge and of course in many points should be someone who has control and engineering knowledge in general. This provides a possibility that is not common in normal tuition and so the participants can change their role of punctual moderators and facing with duties and responsibilities that implies. Being this another important point in the individual learning. In all the
business studies, social and labour, always keep in touch with what’s happening “in the other side of the counter”; to express in a easier way, because understanding the other one putting in their shoes and avoiding then future problems. What is more, offering the student the ability of adopting this point of view we are giving the chance to adopt the leader role in a group, and this is the role that are getting more and more value in companies, because normally nobody is taught in traditional tuition to develop this role. In this way the student can see, from his own experience which are the values of leadership what encourage the group and lead them to success in their projects, at the same time they are gaining new abilities which help them in their professional future if they have to face one day to the be in charge of a project. In not distance education with a unique tutor that means to expose visually to the classmates which is not interesting sometimes socially or is rejected by shyness, in a virtual group with several moderators is going to be in a natural way and scarcely they realize what is happening. It is very common during a robotics workshop that someone who starts as a student finishes proposing an activity and is designated in a unanimous way to be the moderator of this activity . For this reason is important the control, but never have to limit the evolution of the group. Therefore, the existence of several moderators (at least in this case) is more effective than the existence of only one. Likewise, this way of working makes easier the unloading of work and the distribution of duties among the members. We are aware there are some activities or courses that do not allow this multiplicity. And it is clear that the administrator of the general forum have more capacity in the organization and the contents of it. However, we think, even in this case, that the multiplicity of administrators in a right number can collaborate to make the work more dynamic and accept or reject suggestions faster and with more global criterion. The experience of the IEEE Student Branch of UNED guarantees it. We must not forget that this data comes from an application and from a group very specific like the robotics workshop of the IEEE Student Branch of UNED. It is obvious that these suggestions should be adapted to the individual work of every kind of group, students and tutors. However we think that are enough illustrative to be useful like a start point of any formative activity and an online collaboration. F. The future of the workshop When this project was born, it was tried to provide the learning of the engineering degrees of a less theoretical point of view and to put in practice the knowledge acquired during the degree. This idea don’t try to provide to a concrete group of a determined levels the possibility of acquiring this new abilities, on the contrary it pursues to offer this possibility to all the future engineering students and, in conclusion, to improve the future engineers competences starting from a educative model which qualifies them better to face to their first job. Because of the robotics workshop depends on its characteristics, of the participants in it, and also depends on the work and effort of its
IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008 tutors and moderators, is indispensable to follow a model that allows, even those changes, the group follows working and evolving. That’s why, its very important when news users join to the group they feel comfortable, they feel involved in the project and they are constantly motivated to take part and work in it. It is necessary that when they join, they can experiment on without difficulties with all worked previously, and from then on they are able to add new ideas and proposing new projects to work in and continuing moving forward. In this way we are going to get that when the current moderators abandon their students roles, there will be others behind who can assume this role and following leading the robotics workshop. Another fundamental aspect for the robotics workshop becomes a success is to have an enough number of members. To get this target we must start from all the ideas exposed in this text, and in conclusion are going to do that the current participants are satisfied with the project, and therefore thanks to “word of mouth” are joining more students. This is an important aspect, because UNED has a wide number of associated centres. All of them are very scattered, and the only way the IEEE Student Branch has to be known by the students is the proper interest of the participants in getting that the project continues moving forward and for the success that they are gaining which gives fame and recognition to the branch.
discuss the advances and proposals of the projects in "direct". The chosen tool is an application of three-way call that allows that several members of the group could see each other (if they have webcam) and to speak (if they have microphone) of simultaneously form. This way, meetings can be done even though the distance or personal situations are prevented from doing so in person, obtaining a better proximity between the participants of a project and more implication towards the attainment of the targets. It is necessary to stand out, that although with these methods it becomes possible to improve the interpersonal relations between the members and it improves the atmosphere of the group, the real contact cannot be replaced completely thus. Because of that, it is advisable to carry out meetings so that the pupils can get to know each other. Since the wide geographical distribution of the UNED prevents all the participants to reunite at the same point, a plan has been established to unite several members in the same town. Nevertheless, this for the time being only has become possible to be realized successfully in Madrid and A Coruña. All these actions have contributed that the actual members of the IEEE Student Branch of UNED have agreed to the realized work and between all collaborate to try to improve in all the aspects that help to obtain an education more profitable and adapted to the requirements of the current labor market.
V. EXPERIENCE The experience that has been had up till now with the group of robotics has been satisfactory. Two present courses have been realized, them of a week of duration in two different cities. It is studied the possibility of taking these courses to more head quarters of the UNED. The students who have come to the courses have remained satisfied with the acquired knowledge and it has served them as base and motivation to keep on working with the robotics across the virtual workshop. This has allowed us to initiate several projects that thanks to the collaboration of every member of the group (tutors, moderators and pupils), are getting on forward little by little. What the time has been demonstrating the organizers of the workshop, it is that once one starts working exclusively on-line, it is very important to keep on supporting the "human contact" that provides the presential education. This is because the purely virtual communication across forums and of the rest of available applications in the platform aLF, provides a very cold atmosphere that provokes lack of motivation in the participants. One of the first solutions that help to improve this aspect, is to allow that all the members who use aLF could upload a photo and that this one should appear next to every message of the forum that they write. To put him face to face every message relieves the sensation of solitude that sometimes provokes the virtual education, which improves the spirits of the participants. At present, there are numerous free applications, with quality and easy access that allows communication between people. The second step is to obtain an environmental group and keeps us away from distancing that on-line education can provoke, was to use these tools and to stay periodically form and to
VI. NOTES ABOUT KIT AND PRACTICE In this experience, the Kit Home BoeBot has been the main protagonist. There are two reasons about that. First, the Kit is developed to assemble its electronics parts easily. Second, its tutorial is comprehensive enough to understand it without difficulty. Both reasons are fundamental to create practical virtual experiences. In our situation, these ones have been involved: 1.
Building the Kit following the tutorial steps was the easiest stage of the virtual work. The hardest part came afterwards, when we tried to develop exercises about control via Bluetooth. The reason about that was to improve its response to movements and reactions. Our aim was to study the possibilities to carry out a championship “SoocerBot” (to play soccer using Bots) through control via Internet-PC-Bot. Results were very interesting. We could see that, this kind of control inserted important delays that do not allow fluid and dynamic movements and may generate conflicts between Bots. The solution of this problem was the creation of a wider range of Internet communications, such as the generation of different Bluetooth signals, one different for every Bot; or the transformation of the PC signal to different signals to control remotely the Bots. To use a camera to look around in a room or a corridor, broadcasting the signals via UHF to a PC TV-board and transmitting them to other computers through the
IEEE MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING EDUCATION MAGAZINE, VOL. 3, NO. 2, JUNE 2008 Internet. This experience allowed verifying the Kit’s possibilities in surveillance activities. A problem about this practice was that the Bot was configured to walk in a programmed route, because in this point we met the problem of the previous point 1, about communication to control it via Internet. 3. Thanks to the possibilities of interacting with a face-to-face workspace, every participant could see the interaction between two Kits: persecution simulation, or following a black trace on the floor. For these activities, we use a free software for video conference called ooVoo. This allows us to be in permanent contact to try, gradually, the diferents Kit’s options. The dotLRN platform allows us to load our respective videos to show indivudual progress and fixing our ideas and problems in its discussion forum rooms. VII. CONCLUSIONS The use of virtual platforms for groups of work and especially, long distance work groups has turned into a fundamental tool for the good development and attainment of the suggest targets. The proper experience in the starting of the projects that are appearing from the Branch makes clear that the possibilities of work as a whole, with members who differ in his locality, are possible offering even more productive contributions sometimes on having centre on a major grade, in the target that they have in common. The experience not only has limited itself to the exchange of knowledge in relation to the topic, but it has developed beyond the merely academic offering between the participants the possibility of structuring its own learning and deciding up to what point it is wanted each one to be involved. In all the cases the participants have remained satisfied with the obtained yield and, the most important issue, they considered highly rentabilized his participation in the virtual Workshop. This point has seen confirmed later with the generation of new proposals regarding the use of this technology for other courses and virtual workshops. Previously we consider demonstrated; at least in the said practical experience; that the distance learning does not turn out to be only operative for theoretical disciplines, but it is possible to apply successfully in practical activities as the Workshop of robotics treated along these lines. We do not want to end without stating an important clarification that has already moved forward a few lines more above. In this case we have counted on with participants not only of different places removed geographically from one another, but with different ages and different academic formation. Some of them with a major knowledge on mechanics and electronics, and others with a merely basic idea of the matters to treat, it is for it, and most important, the fact that in all the cases the due target has been obtained never without the pupil being limited by his initial knowledge, or slowed down in his advance. This, which can look like triteness, is quite important since we must not forget that the final target is
learning. This one would not be effective if it was not balanced and obtainable for all the participants with independence of his initial knowledge. We hope that the success generated continue from the beginning of this activity, the errors will be corrected accordingly, and there will join the suggestions and ideas contributed by all those who have taken part in the same one. In any case we think that it is notable the existence of experiences of this type to demonstrate that learning is adaptable, and that both pupils and tutors go out reinforced with the introduction of the new technologies of the information in the educational current environment. It is necessary to stand out to finish this exhibition, with the success of the workshop of robotics and the desire of learning that it has motivated in the members, has taken, to which these have proved to be interest moving the idea of the workshop of robotics to other areas of the engineering. For the IEEE Student Branch of UNED is preparing two new workshops that, as in the case of the workshop of robotics, they will begin with a presential component, to end up by moving it to the virtual ambience. These two new workshops are: the workshop of programming, which will be centered on the Java technology and on the methodologies of programming arisen in the last years as it carries to eXtreme Programming, and the workshop of networks, which will center principally on the wireless technologies and on the standard IEEE 802.11.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT The authors would like to acknowledge the Spanish IEEE Section, the IEEE Woman In Engineering Affinity Group and the Electrical and Computer Department of UNED the support for this paper as the project “Distributed and Virtual Robotics Group”. REFERENCES  
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