Dancing Robots: An Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Experience

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Are you interested in creating innovative and collaborative projects that utilize music and technology? Do you enjoy dancing?  During this presentation faculty discuss the shared development process, utilized technologies, discipline-specific project requirements, assessment criteria, and video results of a robot dance.

This session received high reviewer ratings and is runner up for Best-in-Strand.


Dr. Debra Smarkusky is an Associate Professor of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and Co-Coordinator of the IST Degree Program at Penn State University, Scranton Campus. She has taught for Penn State World Campus (online), has completed learning requirements for the CANVAS Learning Path Badge, and completed Penn State World Campus Certificate for Online Teaching. She received B.S. Mathematics and B.S. Computer Science from Penn State University, a M.S. Software Engineering from the University of Scranton, and Ph.D. Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Connecticut. She is a member of the IEEE Computer Society, Association of Computing Machinery (SIGCSE and SIGITE) and Association for Technology in Music Instruction.
Sharon Ann Toman is a Assistant Teaching Professor of Music and Program Coordinator for the Arts and Humanities. Sharon is Music Director for the Penn State Scranton Chorale, the Campus Jazz Band, and The Roc[k]tet. Sharon teaches a variety of MUSIC and INART courses in both resident education as well as through Penn State's e-Learning Cooperative. Sharon has completed the training requirements for the CANVAS Learning Path Badges as well as certification for teaching Penn State Online Courses. She received Bachelor of Music degree (B.M.) in Piano Performance from Marywood University, Master of Music degree (M.M.) in Piano Pedagogy and Music History from The Catholic University of America, and doctoral studies at Manhattan School of Music and Temple University.

Extended Abstract

Computing technology can be utilized to enhance our creativity and the learning process.  Within academia, faculty are seeking to include interdisciplinary projects with a significant computational component into the curriculum to enhance collaboration between information sciences and other disciplines such as engineering, physics, social sciences, and the arts. 

In this presentation, faculty share information regarding an interdisciplinary project between students in an Information Sciences and Technology (IST) course and students in a General Education Music course.  When students develop software applications and music compositions, they follow a similar development process to include requirements definition, design, implementation, and test/debug phases. 

For this project, the music students utilize Sibelius (www.avid.com/sibelius) to create digital musical scores for the background music of the dance.  LEGO® MINDSTORMS® (www.lego.com/en-us/mindstorms), with leJOS NXJ (www.lejos.org) installed as the firmware, provides the platform for IST students to develop Java applications using Eclipse (www.eclipse.org), with associated plugins, for maneuvering the robot.  The design and implementation of the choreography is the bridge between discipline areas.  The final product is a robot dance where the movements of robot couples are synchronized to the rhythm of the music.

As teams from both disciplines share information online and work towards the completion of this project, they join forces and build relationships by using a common language to describe the dance steps and how this would be accomplished.   Each member of the interdisciplinary team utilizes their strengths for the success of the project and shares an appreciation for the contribution from students of the other discipline. Teams become very motivated and competitive regarding the outcome of the robot dance project and work long hours on this project to try and ensure that their project is ranked the best during the final demonstration.

The completed projects are demonstrated to the campus community, which include faculty and students from both classes, a panel of judges, and invited guests.  To provide the proper ambiance for the “Robot Dance Party”, we reserve a conference room; order food and beverages; setup the dance floor area surrounded with tables and chairs; and provide a sound system and data projector for the playing and display of the digital musical score while the robot dance is being performed. 

The IST student efforts are assessed on the creativity and complexity of the choreography for two robots; synchronization of movements between two robots; synchronization (timing) of movements to the music file for both robots; overall appearance and quality of the choreographed dance for the two robots; and submission of project deliverables and student lessons learned.  Grading criteria for assessment of the digital music scores include correct staves, key signature, time signature, notes, rhythmic durations, dynamics, musical symbols, correct number of measures repeat signs, and the addition of other instruments to the basic piano score to include flute, clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, guitar, bass, and/or drum set.  The panel of judges are briefed on the project requirements for each discipline, review the non-discipline specific criteria for assessing the robot dances, evaluate the robot dances, and then rank the students based on their evaluation and combined results.  

This interdisciplinary project provides students in both Music and IST courses with an opportunity to become familiar with terminology and concepts from both disciplines.  Students quickly learn that the creation of digital musical scores and the Java programs that controlled the choreography both require attention to specific detail, and the following of a very similar development process.  In identifying tools for application of concepts, both departments prefer software that provides instant feedback to students during project development.  Students also gain experience in working with clients from other disciplines to create an enjoyable and exciting project.

The robot dance can be extended to various courses, taught in summer camps, or demonstrated during recruiting events to enhance student interest in related degree programs.  We look forward to sharing more information about our project with you during the conference and showing videos of the dance projects that were created.