DRobotZ: A Promising Practice for Introducing Students with Disabilities to Robotics
DRobotZ was designed to better expose and prepare students who are deaf or hard of hearing to college life and computing careers. With funding from AccessComputing, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) developed and hosted a two-week residential summer camp in Rochester, New York for high school freshmen and sophomores who are deaf and hard of hearing. Activities with robotics encouraged students to consider careers in computing and to adjust their high school programs in preparation for a four-year degree in a computing field.
The goals of the DRobotZ camp were to:
- Teach students science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills that will give them confidence and spark their interest in taking STEM courses in preparation for college;
- Foster continuing friendships and relationships among students and professionals having common interests in the STEM fields; and
- Familiarize students with the computing field as a potential STEM career choice and introduce them to role models who have succeeded in the field.
For two weeks students experienced what college life is like as they lived in a residence hall and learned to navigate around a college campus while they participated in robotics classes. The robotics classes were interactive as students learned multiple STEM components at once. For example, after learning a new control, like turning the robot, students would apply mathematical or scientific concepts related to that control. In one exercise students had to learn to program the robot to turn ninety degrees. This required that they learn to calculate how many times the tire would rotate to turn exactly 90 degrees. To do this students learned to calculate speed and acceleration and to test friction. To keep things interesting in the classroom, occasional contests like races or precision robot control competitions were conducted.
In addition to the robotics classes students were introduced to young deaf and hard of hearing students in computing and technology fields via three video conference presentations by current RIT students. The RIT students shared their views on studying, interviewing for jobs, working with hearing people, and how to succeed as a college student. Other presentations exposed participants to a variety of careers in computer science and portrayed them as accessible career options for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. DRobotZ students appeared to enjoy the presentations as they were engaged and asked many questions. During the summer camp, students joined a private Facebook group, which served as a way to continue social networking both during and after the summer camp.
Several of the students have since applied to participate in other computing summer programs. At least one of the participants continued to pursue robotics projects independently, using online materials provided by the DRobotZ's director. This continued engagement demonstrates that these students had an increased interest in computing and that they built relationships with others interested in computing.
DRobotZ is a promising practice for introducing students who are deaf and hard of hearing to both robotics and educational opportunities in computing fields. In addition, Activities such as DRobotZ fill a gap between computing programs for middle school students who are deaf and hard of hearing like TechGirlz and TechBoyz and computing programs for students who are deaf and hard of hearing who are juniors or seniors in high school like the Summer Academy.