For most students, college education is only thought to come in the form of conventional lectures and textbooks, but two students working in the Communication and Social Robotics Lab are afforded a break from the classroom several times a week. CSRL is a collaborative effort between Dr. Autumn Edwards and Dr. Chad Edwards in the School of Communication at WMU and Dr. Patric Spence at the University of Kentucky. Under the supervision of Drs. Edwards, students conduct and analyze robot-human interaction, as well as continue their studies in overall communication.
Emily Spranger, a junior majoring in public relations, takes care of the social media aspect of the lab. She develops the Twitter and Facebook feeds and is helping to build the website. "Working in the lab has been a great experience for me. I’ve learned so many real life skills that I would not be able to learn in a traditional classroom setting," Emily said. She continues, "For example, working on the website has given me so many relevant public relations experience. Working in the lab is very hands-on and very rewarding. It’s great to have an actual physical outcome of your work instead of just getting a letter grade." Emily's favorite part is working with the robots. She finds it interesting to witness how students and teachers interact with them. According to Emily, "working in the lab has been a very rewarding and knowledgeable experience."
Adam Reid, a senior who studies public relations and management, worked in SERL last spring and is working there this fall also. For his fall lab work, Adam will primarily focus on his thesis through the Lee Honors College. The thesis will involve a study that aims to help shed light on human-robot interaction in an education setting. Adam "will use two telepresence robots: Herman, which is bulky and slow, and Olivia, which is small and fluid. I believe differences in subject perception and attitude toward each robot will vary, depending on the subject and the corresponding robot’s features and tendencies." Pending data and results, Adam's thesis will be sent for possible inclusion at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Portland, Oregon. After it has been defended, the thesis will be revised and submitted to a research journal for publication.
Emily and Adam agree that working in CSRL is both educationally and socially rewarding. Textbooks and other structured learning styles offer limited creativity, but work in the lab is seemingly without boundaries. They consider themselves fortunate to not only be presented with problems, but to also be given the opportunity to discover the answers themselves.