Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Project Beginnings

Hello! It's about four weeks into this project and so far we've gotten a lot done!  After the first initial meeting, we established the overarching goal for this project: to make it easier to teach ROS using TurtleBot.  Since then we have worked on narrowing down the focus of the project, reaching out to the online robotics education community, developing a schedule for the project, and developed a format for organizing and collaborating on course material.

Before delving further into what we've been working on for the past few weeks, I will start by describing what we plan to accomplish this summer.  The goal for this project is to produce a website with some example robotics courses and a way for educators to submit additional courses/course material relatively easily.  In addition, there should be a means to index and search for courses and course material based on subject, skills taught, pre-requisites, and any other "tags" associated with the content. 

We will do this by creating a Git online repository with the infrastructure required for educators to collaboratively build online courses and their relevant material.  The courses will be composed of units, which in turn contain lessons, tutorials, and challenges.  Each element (courses, units, lessons, tutorials, and challenges) will have a header containing a reference ID and meta-data that both gives users a sense of the content and acts as a means of searching for course material in the repository. Units and the content in the units can be cross-referenced between units as well as courses so that course material can be recycled if appropriate. Course material can include anything from material outlines to power point presentation files to example code. 

The idea is to collaboratively create online robotics courses that educators can both edit and pull from in order to use with their own students.

In order to get the first version of the site up an running, there was a lot of planning that needed to get done.  For the first couple weeks, I did a lot of background research learning about ROS, TurtleBot, and going through many existing online courses.  While looking though existing online course material, I took note of the differences in content, course structure, target audience, and any other relevant information.  The idea was to get a sense of what's already out there and in particular, how to categorize these courses.  This was how we settled on the different elements comprising the courses as well as how they will be tagged or referenced.  Once we had envisioned a skeleton course structure for this site, Tully created an Git online repository with blank examples of all the course elements.  My next step is to populate these elements with material pulled form the courses I initially researched.  Our main concern is to ensure that the course material indexing and navigation works well and is easy to use.

My mentor and I have also been thinking about how to engage the existing community of ROS educators (a significant portion of this project will involve outreach to the ROS education community).  We started by looking at the ros.org Special Interest Group (SIG) for education and sent an email out to the list inviting input.  We received a very promising reply from Bill Smart, Mechanical Engineering Professor at Oregon State and coordinator for the education SIG.  In his email Smart said that after a few years of loosing momentum on the online collaborative robotics education front, he is picking up steam again and is interested in coordinating with us on this project.  Since our focus is in principle geared towards using TurtleBot, our initial efforts will build an online database focusing on learning robotics with TurtleBot.  Smart is looking to start off consolidating course material for a broader spectrum of robot platforms.  However, due to the versatile and collaborative nature of the site, our project will hopefully serve as a means to produce courses for many other platforms and areas in robotics. 

With Bill Smart and the ROS education community in touch, and a prototype website, our next steps will be to test this out and hopefully start collaborating on courses!

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