ROVERS: Remotely Operated Vehicles to Engage and Retain Students
- Over 400 students per year in introductory science and math courses at Brevard College control remote rovers with sensors exploring a 200 acre plot located 30 km away in the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. The site is located at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI).
- In an engaging educational experience the undergraduates operate the remote rovers from the classroom to probe stream fed ponds and a forested environment from the ground and air mapping the habitat with a Geographic Information System.
- Two summer interns each year ground-truth the rovers’ measurements which adds validity to the data taken during the classroom experience. Also, faculty may use the data for their research.
- Professional development workshops are prepared and presented by the science educators at PARI, the project’s collaborative partner, for Brevard College STEM faculty. The workshops train the faculty on the use of rovers and sensors. Also in the workshops, faculty create curricula for new student engagement strategies in the STEM classroom.
- The new curriculum includes both stored data sets, as well real-time exploration with the rovers. An education research study is an important part of this project. The study directly addresses the impact on engagement and retention of undergraduates in introductory STEM courses that use the remotely operated rover technology. The rover technology is readily available commercially and is similar to that used by the nation’s STEM workforce.
- Education research studies of the effectiveness of technology to engage students in STEM fields have been mainly based on studies of K-12 and undergraduate introductory STEM learning environments. Most studies are based on qualitative assessments.
- The education research study of this project advances the knowledge in the area of innovative technology impact on STEM education by providing needed quantitative data. This project compares the current rate of student engagement and retention in introductory STEM courses with those after the robot technology has been implemented.
- The value of the forest habitat data gathered by the sensors on the vehicles is also recognized. A habitat map of a section of a national forest, that can be a longitudinal study, is important for environmental scientists and ecologists – especially the next generation of scientists who are exploring with the robots in their early years of higher education.
- By using broadly applicable, transformational technology (remote control robots), this project engages and inspires Brevard College math and science undergraduate students and faculty, while creating a community set of institutional tools to share with peer institutions and informal science education centers.
- Replication of the project, the curricula, vehicles and sensors, and packages datasets at the other institutions of higher learning and science education centers is expected as a broad impact.
- PARI is the first institution where this impact will be made. Educators at PARI plan to expand the project to summer and after-school programs, especially SciGirls and the North Carolina Girls STEM Collaborative.