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Collaborating at the Student Scholarship Exposition

Will Herring ’09 and Andrew Becker ’09 presented their research on using robots to teach students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the 17th Annual Student Scholarship Exposition.

By Justin Phelps '05

Learning social skills from a robot, rather than another human, may seem strange. However, it might be the key to unlocking a new world for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder, with which individuals may have trouble socializing, communicating, and learning.

Will Herring ’09, Andrew Becker ’09, and Lauralyn Bogart ’09 are developing such robots, designed to act as human substitutes to teach social skills to students with ASD. The trio presented their work and findings on Friday at the 17th Annual Student Scholarship Exposition in Bradley Hall. Sponsored by the Bradley University Office of Teacher Excellence and Faculty Development, the Exposition recognizes and promotes student scholarly work with peers and colleagues.

“The Student Scholarship Exposition is a wonderful opportunity for our students to present their research and scholarship,” President Joanne K. Glasser said. “The Expo highlights student-faculty collaboration and creative achievement across many academic disciplines. The Expo lets our students take their education outside of the classroom and have a practical, hands-on learning experience that is the hallmark of a Bradley education.”

Herring, Becker, and Bogart are prime examples of the student-faculty and inter- and cross-discipline collaboration the Exposition seeks. In developing and programming the robots, Herring and Becker, both computer science majors, have worked closely with faculty mentors Dr. Deitra Kuester, assistant professor of special education, and Dr. Chris Nikolopoulos, professor of computer science and information systems. A special education, elementary education and early childhood major, Bogart was introduced to the group by Kuester.

Herring and Becker have collaborated with faculty members Dr. Kevin Finson (top left), Dr. Deitra Kuester (top middle) and Dr. Chris Nikolopoulos (top right).

“This collaboration has been very good,” Herring said. “We, the students, listen to what the professors’ goals are for this project, and if we think we can tweak it to be better, or if we have a limitation of hardware or software, they listen to us. We usually get together and discuss how to proceed and work through problems so everybody is happy with the result. Everybody’s input has been valued.”

The robots are designed to act as a human substitute to teach these skills. The group planned to participate in last year’s Exposition but discovered they needed more time to adequately prepare the project. Herring created the mechanical side of the robots, building four in total, two with legs and two with wheels. Becker programmed the robots and tweaked the code to perfect a fluid script without long pauses. Bogart planned the deployment of the robots in classroom settings.

The robotics project is one of about 90 featured at the Exposition. Any student engaged in research, creative activities, or other forms of scholarship is eligible to participate.

Students also must be enrolled in the fall 2008 and/or spring 2009 semester to participate. The Exposition was open to the Bradley community and general public. Area businesses and companies were welcome to preview the projects also.