Robotics Engineering: Assessing An Interdisciplinary Program
2010 Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings
In the spring of 2007, Worcester Polytechnic Institute introduced a BS degree program in Robotics Engineering. The degree program is a collaborative effort, involving faculty from the departments of computer science, electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering. The motivation for the program is twofold: First of all, the dramatic drop in the cost of sensors, computers and actuators is making possible entirely new classes of products, capable of both automating nontrivial
... ing nontrivial tasks as well as performing functions not possible before. Secondly, robotics has proven to be an excellent means to excite pre-college students about science, technology, and engineering. While much of the technical foundation for the new program is drawn from Computer Science, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering, we believe that Robotics Engineering is on the path to emerging as an independent discipline with its own intellectual goals and body of knowledge. Thus, graduates from the program are expected to exhibit mastery that is greater than simply knowing some computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering. Assessment of student learning therefore must go beyond measuring the mastery of the various knowledge domains contributing to the discipline. Here we discuss our current assessment results, the tools we have used, and our plans for continuing assessment. There are three measures of success for any new program: 1. The number and quality of students attracted to the program, 2. The extent to which graduates are employed or admitted to graduate school, and 3. The degree to which the program achieves its educational objectives. The first measure, enrollment, is, sine qua non, the most important and straightforward. This has already been answered in the affirmative. Students have flocked to the program, already enrolling almost as many students per class as Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering. The second measure, graduate success, is difficult to assess definitively at this early stage as only a few students have graduated yet (those who transferred into the program as it was introduced. As the large cohorts of students who have been RBE majors for most of their stay at WPI graduate, assessing how well the program has succeeded in building a new interdisciplinary program that is more than the "sum of its parts" remains a challenge. The third measure, program assessment, is well underway. The core of the program is contained in five new courses, an introductory course and four Unified Robotics Engineering courses. We have gathered extensive formal and informal input from these courses and while the overall student satisfaction has been high, the feedback has unearthed issues involving expected workload and integration. These have lead to several modifications in the courses. In addition to the unified courses, students take several courses already offered, from the three departments' collaboration on the program as well as others. The feedback has shown a few cases where the required background has not been optimal for subsequent courses and the program requirements have been modified to address this feedback.