About Books & Bots – Public Libraries as open learning spaces

Anyone who happens to be at Hamburg’s main train station is sure to spy the nostalgic red brick building that houses the Central Library. On the first floor, there are shelves of books that can be devoured in perfectly lit reading corners. One floor below, a different distinct scene unfolds, yet it seamlessly integrates into the overall ambiance. For in addition to books, there are games, films, handicrafts and even robots. The robolab is a central and public place for everyone to learn and explore. Recently, this institution hosted an OESA workshop.

A small group of children spent a day experimenting with the robot Thymio. The open-source robot was created for educational purposes and can be programmed with different languages such as Scratch, Blockly or Python. OESA fellow Alex developed a concept based on the Dagstuhl Declaration, which focused on learning through play with the Thymio and consists of three parts: First, the children gathered their existing knowledge about robots in a brainstorming session and discussed what actually constitutes robots by defining specific aspects of robots.

This was followed by a practical part in which the Thymio and its functions were explored. Its six basic behaviors include following ones hand, avoiding obstacles, moving away from other robots and humans (especially if they scream at it), changing its colour, following a track on the ground and reacting to pressing its buttons. The kids designed a parkour and tested out how it behaves under different conditions. With great enthusiasm for experimentation, light, volume, color and other external aspects were varied and the results eagerly recorded. At the end of this learning unit, the children shared and reflected on their experiences.

In the last part of the workshop, Alex presented a hypothetical scenario to the children: The children were asked to consider what it would be like if teaching robots took over the lessons at school and human teachers only came to school occasionally. They discussed how they would feel, what they would miss, and what concretely would change.

The kids concluded that the scenario holds its possibilities and challenges. A teaching robot still felt somewhat distant, making it challenging to assess its specific features (and bugs). Nevertheless, it was a day of rethinking school and teaching as it is and we hope to see Alex and the children tinkering in robolab again soon. We are looking forward to it and thank robolab for the great cooperation.

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