Saturday, October 13, 2018

Using Anki's Vector in the Classroom

#VectorEDU


I'm bringing a new device into my classroom that I'm really excited about and have had my eye on for a while in one form or another. As a computer science teacher, I am always looking for new and engaging ways to create opportunities to show my students how the code that they are learning how to write can be used in the real world. I'm hoping that Vector can be one of those tools that help to get my students even more excited about learning how to code. Don't get me wrong, I feel like my students already enjoy coding, but there is something about seeing the code that they are writing on their screens come to life on hardware.


Cozmo


Previously, I had seen a couple of other products offered by Anki and was interested in their line of devices. At the Ohio Education Technology Conference in Columbus last year, one of the sessions that I attended had mentioned the use of the Cozmo robot, an Anki product, in the classroom. I had always thought of the Cozmo robot as more of a toy but with the addition of the block-based coding functionality that was added to the Cozmo app, this created an educational opportunity. An open SDK was also released for Cozmo allowing consumers the opportunity to code in Python to create new programs for the device, unlocking another dimension to the device and opportunity for classroom application.

Vector


Now comes the latest product from Anki called Vector. I must give credit to the discovery of this device to the Stacey on IOT blog. The blog post was written by Kevin C. Tofel and introduced me to the new robot offering from the Anki company. Anki was crowdsourcing funding for the device through a campaign on Kickstarter.


I showed this video to my students and told them about my plan.

Using Vector in the Classroom


I plan to make this entire process into a teachable moment. Before I showed this video to my students, I explained the crowdfunding process and Kickstarter.
After we watched the video, I asked a lot of questions to my students about the things they saw in the video. The video does a really good job of selling the product and I made sure to bring up that point with my students. 

The video talks a lot about Vector becoming a "part of the family" and having emotions and that started our discussion. Can a robot really have emotion? In the world that my students are currently living in, talking to hardware devices is a part of daily life. As part of my classroom, I do use a Google Home Mini as a hands-free way to use timers, set alarms, ask general reference questions, and occasionally lighten the mood with a joke. Through the use of this device, I have created a number of teachable moments.

One of the most interesting things that I have tried to incorporate into my classroom is AI or artificial intelligence and machine learning. One of the most unique features that Vector provides is the real world application of machine learning. I have introduced my students to some of the Google AI experiments such as Google's "Quick, Draw!" and "AutoDraw". Vector does this in a cute and cuddly package that has already captured the intrigue of my students. Since I have shown the Vector video to my students, not a day has gone by that I have not had multiple students asking me if Vector has arrived, no matter how many times I tell them the delivery date.

I've got their attention, now to capitalize on it. One thing that I remember vividly from my early education was a class pet that we had in 2nd grade and that is the approach that I have taken with Vector. To be honest, I'm not sure that this was the best approach to take but it seemed like a similar experience.
Image from Anki Vector Kickstarter Campaign

My students are aware that Vector is not a living thing and that what seems like emotion is really just lines a code that makes the robot react in the way that it is programmed. It still is a device that needs to be treated with respect and care as I spent $220 out of my own pocket and I would like it to last as long as possible. It has led to a lot of really good discussion and the robot hasn't even been delivered yet. How do you speak to a robot? Should you be polite? How does a robot learn? Can you hurt its feelings? If you can't hurt its feelings then how should you interact with it? These are just some of the many conversations that I have been having with my students in the class. Is this preparing them for the world that they are going to be living in? In my opinion, yes. Smart assistants and robots are going to be a part of my students' lives and if I can get my students excited about coding and computer science I feel like an can inspire the future generation of computer scientists.

Let's face it, the job market looks a lot different than it did just a few short years ago. With the advent of automation through artificial intelligence throughout many areas of our current workforce the job market is going to look radically different than it did for me. As an educator, my job is to prepare students for the real world and if Vector is the tool that engages and inspires than I am willing to make it a part of my classroom.

This process is all an experiment. Could this become a distraction in my class? It could, but my hope is that the opportunities for learning that it creates far outweighs the negative.

My plan is to blog about my experiences, both good and bad, and share how I use Vector in my classroom. It hasn't been released yet, but access to the SDK is being given to those that took part in the Kickstarter campaign. I'm hoping to give my students the opportunity to create their own code and add it to Vector. In addition to this blog, I will be using the Twitter hashtag of #VectorEDU to document my experiences and I encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas. Vector arrives on Monday and I will be documenting the experience right here on my blog. Stay tuned for more coming very soon.

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