An innovative robotics course that builds upon critical thinking and sharpens problem-solving skills is now open to students in the Academic Bridge Program (ABP). The course fits perfectly within the mission of ABP, part of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, as it helps students develop the academic and personal skills they need to meet university admission requirements. This year, 67 students from ABP were admitted to Qatar Foundation’s branch campuses.
Alia Khairat, ABP Student Services Officer, explained that it was crucial to find new ways to develop student capabilities. “The Academic Bridge Program tries to align itself with universities and aims to improve the courses, as well as the variety of courses it gives,” she said.
The idea for the course developed when a robotics club proved extremely popular among ABP students, particularly those planning to study engineering and computer science at university. Kim Tresohlavy, an instructor in the computer department, is looking forward to teaching the course and training pupils to become independent thinkers.
“The students need critical thinking skills, they need problem-solving, they need to be able to analyse something and figure out what affects it through trial and error,” said Kim. “I want them to be autonomous in their learning. They can look at something holistic and say this is wrong. Well, what part of it is wrong?”
The course will be open to a maximum of 16 students each semester, each of whom must negotiate a rigorous selection procedure. Accuplacer scores will be considered, assessing reading, writing, mathematics and computer skills, and every candidate will also be personally interviewed.
“We are looking for students who have a certain level of abstract thinking,” Kim said. “They have to be able to speak English well, so they have to be in academic English because they need the language to understand and express abstract ideas.”
ABP students who qualify will take the robotics course in addition to their normal study load, which includes English, science, maths and computers. However, the class is designed to take students through the process of robotics incrementally.
Initially, course students will receive an introduction to robotics and learn to classify different kinds of automated machines. They will then build a robot based on visual instructions, and ultimately design one to perform various functions using the LEGO Mindstorms NXT software program.
“Step-by-step they will build a little more each time and learn different commands and programming blocks,” said Kim.
Even when the programme was in its early stages as a voluntary club, participants saw tangible results as they worked through various creative exercises. “My first impression was ‘how to build a robot?’”, said Sultan Al Hamad, a 2011 ABP graduate now studying at Cardiff University in the UK. “But after we took the basics we began to build our own robot and it was fantastic. Then we began to create our own robotic programming and it was great. I think that it was the best club in the ABP.”
Khalid Al-Hajaj, another member of the ABP robotics club who is now also studying in Cardiff echoed his classmate’s view. “Robotics class was really fun because I learned how to put together a robot and how to program it to do what I want,” he said. “I had no idea about robots before I came to the robotics club, and now I know the basics that will help me put together and operate any robot.”
In addition to problem-solving attributes, students will also acquire technical and teamwork skills that are highly transferrable to other business sectors. Meanwhile, pupils who don’t qualify for the course can still volunteer to join the robotics club.
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