Robotics: physical and virtual – how do they work together?
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Robotics: physical and virtual – how do they work together?

Many factors come into play for schools when implementing robotics programs, from tight budgets to the possibility of school closures and remote learning, and virtual robotics are playing an increasingly important role in many schools’ robotics curriculum.

Modern Teaching Aids’ (MTA) Blended Learning and Development Manager Claire Seldon, also a high school science and technology teacher, knows the value of both physical and virtual robotics.

Seldon says the biggest reason for schools to implement any type of robotics program is because it is a great way of building future STEAM skills.

“When students engage in a robotics program or project, they’re not only developing STEAM skills though those essential creative, critical and problem-solving skills, they are also building their communication and collaboration skills through group work,” Seldon says.

“As a teacher, when you run a robotics program with your students, you are wanting to tick off all these key learning areas and STEAM skills.”

However, Seldon acknowledges that physical robotics kits can be expensive, they also may require maintenance and, of course, pieces can get lost. Furthermore, there are also social challenges to consider when working with physical resources of any kind. 

“Not all students can work well in a group, which can be a challenge when running physical robotics programs,’ she says.

“This is because collaboration is a skill that many students still need to develop, and what we find when working in small groups with a physical robotics kit is that the strong, confident student will usually take over, leaving the other students in the group disadvantaged.”

This is where virtual robotics education technology company Robotify can eliminate the learning problem and create a solution.

Robotify has built a technical robotics simulation platform that enables its product, RobotifyEDU to make robotics accessible to everyone and to change the way people learn and access robotics forever.

RobotifyEDU has 100 hours of educational curriculum content that enables students to code virtual robots and prepares them for the automation-driven workplace of the future, with courses developed to the highest educational standards globally.

“What you get with a virtual robotics program is increased equity of access because it costs a lot less, so schools and teachers can provide individual access to the Robotify platform. As long as you have internet access and a device, you are ready to go,” Seldon says.

In terms of the student who is challenged in a small group, Seldon says that Robotify also helps out here.

“If the student is working one-on-one in a virtual environment where they are getting instant feedback, they are going to get the best out of this experience and their confidence is going to build, so when they are working with physical robots in collaborative small-group work, they are now equipped with that confidence to use their knowledge to suggest solutions,” she says.

Physical and virtual robotics are also both offering global opportunities, including international robotics competitions. 

Sometimes these competitions can be out of reach for schools due to budgetary restrictions for physical robots, so virtual robotics competitions can be a fantastic entry point, Seldon suggests.

“A virtual robotics program enables all of a school’s students, in small groups, to enter robotics competitions for a much smaller cost,” she says.

“At the moment, due to COVID-19, there are great international virtual competitions which students in Australia and New Zealand could take part in and have that opportunity to compete with others all around the world. The competitions also allow students who are gifted in robotics to accelerate and grow.”

MTA and Robotify recognise and celebrate the benefits of the synergy between physical and virtual robotics and would encourage schools who already utilise their physical robotics program and who may not have yet considered virtual robotics to explore the possibilities through an introductory offer for Robotify.

Schools who spend $1000 on physical robotics resources will be offered free class access – 12 weeks free for one teacher and up to 30 students to experience the virtual robotics program.

With technology continuing to advance in the classroom, Seldon sees the combination of physical and virtual robotics programs as key to building students’ STEAM skills and equipping them for the jobs of the future.

“What we find is most teachers are concerned about the move from physical to virtual. They worry the students won’t get enough hands-on experience. However, Robotify is still very hands-on and by combining the two types of programs, students have the very best opportunity to develop their robotics skills,” says Seldon.

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