Milind Tambe and class co-designer Emma Bowring, with some exercise materiels "Science fiction is the spice," says Tambe. Students in a new class offered by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering will be writing computer code for Isaac Asimov's disobedient robot Speedy, and for the sinister many-bodied Star Trek menace, the Borg. Milind Tambe, an associate professor of computer science, will be using science fiction as problem sets in a class on artificial intelligence for undergraduate programmers beginning in the fall, 2006 semester. "Computer science is catching up with the ideas in these stories," says Tambe. "We are using science fiction as the spice for the main dish of teaching an important new area of our discipline." While a number of universities use science fiction to introduce concepts in physics and other fields, Tambe believes his course is the first of its kind in computer science.
The undergraduate computer science curriculum is generally focused on skills and tools; most students are not exposed to much research in the field, and do not learn how to navigate the research literature. We describe how science fiction reviews were used as a gateway to research reviews. Students learn a little about current or recent research on a topic that stirs their imagination, and learn how to search for, read critically, and compare technical papers on a topic related their chosen science fiction book, movie, or TV show.
We describe an array of novel introductory-level courses based on exciting topics in modern artificial intelligence. All present a great deal of often research-level technical content in a rigorous manner while keeping the material accessible to lower-level students. On the other hand, they differ in subject matter and style, since a "one-size-fits-all" approach cannot be expected to be effective given the wide variety of student interests and backgrounds. Thus, the courses cover topics ranging from computer vision to natural language processing to game theory and emphasize perspectives from hands-on implementation with robots to mathematical foundations to societal implications. The courses range in format from labstyle to seminar discussion-style to large lectures with outof-class blogging activities, and some have been held during summer sessions expressly to attract highschool students. The evidence shows that these courses are succeeding in drawing a broad audience to learn about ideas in computing. For example, several exceeded their initial enrollment estimates or limits; one drew over 200 students from 25 different majors in its first running; one reports over 30% female enrollment. Course materials are available on the Web and two textbooks based on some of these classes are in progress.
Robotics is a unique educational tool for many reasons including its ability to inspire students and motivate them to be creative. This paper presents our experiences in designing and teaching introductory robotics courses in Qatar and Ghana, two contexts in which robotics is not established and computing technology is in its early stages of impact. We discuss the motivation, challenges, approach, impact, similarities and differences in teaching robotics in these two settings. We highlight lessons learned from these experiences that are generally applicable to robotics education in emerging technology regions.