Video Computer Science Workshop 2015
?: Laura, most people have never heard of Camiguin – please tell us about it.
Laura: Camiguin is a little island that belongs to North Mindanao, The Philippines. It is so small that one can get around the whole island by motorcycle in two hours. The island has seven volcanoes and features a tropic environment. About 80,000 people live on the island. I got to know Camiguin through a personal contact of the Kilaha Foundation, a non-governemental organization caring for the people and the nature of Camiguin.
?: What was your motivation to hold this workshop?
Laura: Technology is a key factor for the development of countries and their people´s life. It is crucial for children to have a basic understanding of the latest advances in computer science - how it works, why it is important and how they can use it and improve it. My ultimate goal was to empower talented young people to explore and use technology, but always in accordance with their own surroundings and living conditions.
Moreover, I always wanted to do something applied to make the world a little better. I had the feeling that after finishing my PhD I needed to do something like that to „refresh my brain“ (laughs). In spring 2015, at the beginning of my time as a PostDoc at the Perceiving Systems Department, there was the opportunity to live this, which was one of my dreams. I took two months off and traveled to Camiguin in order to plan and organize this workshop.
Fortunately, the Autonomous Motion Department of the MPI for Intelligent Systems supported my idea by providing a Nao together with its Software and an Exercise book. Moreover, they organized the shipment, and they were extremely excited and supportive of the idea. The project would have been impossible without their help, so I’m incredibly thankful to them. Also, I’m thankful to my group at Perceiving Systems for allowing me the priviledge of taking all that time off.
?: What did you do during your stay in Camiguin?
Laura: During the first week I got connected to the regional government and the High Schools of the island. Then I picked out one of the schools and I had to find a suitable room. At the beginning none of the computers worked, there was no IT-service and I basically had to run around to find somebody who knew the passwords. Then I formatted about five to six computers, but ...- we are talking of a software from around 2007 and merely 512 MB RAM.
?: How did you find the most interested / skilled children?
Laura: Because of time restriction due to my limited stay of four to five weeks, we announced a test to screen for 15 skilled children, aged 10 – 18. We designed this test together with people from Kilaha and a psychologist. The goal was to find out what skills the children have, about their abstract reasoning, their logic and creativity. Of the 100 kids who did the test - among them 75 girls – we selected 15 for the workshop, 12 of them girls. At that time I believed that it was a challenge to teach an asian culture with their different way of communication.
?: How did you perform the workshop?
Laura: Since the shipment of the Nao got delayed by customs, during the first two weeks I taught the students basic knowledge in Computer Vision. That was still during vacation and we met for several hours a day. After the robot arrived, we moved on to robotics. Since school had started again, we continued the workshop during the weekends, 6 hours each Saturday and Sunday – that was very intensive. The Computer Vision part yielded leaf and fish recognition.
The kids were absolutely fantastic, very well-behaved, responsible, mature, collaborative, humble, motivated....- just wonderful. It was an absolute delight to work with them.
?: What was the Nao´s role in the workshop?
Laura: after it got there I presented the Nao to the governor and the school officials. Then I made copies of the excercise book. Since there was only one robot, the kids had to group in four teams and had to rotate to work with it. The first step was to get them structured and organized. After that I was in a constant dialogue with the kids: What are your assumptions? In which case should it work (or not work)? How will you test it? What will happen if you change this or that? What do you expect? By discussing and reflecting the activities with the children I got the feeling that they were really and profundly learning and gaining knowledge.
?: Did you enjoy your stay at Camiguin? What personal experiences/feelings did you have?
Laura: I got to know what it means to live in a developing country with limited commodities but a wonderful and simple day to day life, completely immerse in nature. A rather interesting experience for me was riding a motorcycle over steep and dangerous trails, every day driving uphill and downhill very near to the coastline! In the tropical environment there were snakes, spiders, insects...
Although the five weeks were not leisure – There was a lot of hard work to make the workshop happen, plus keeping up with my academic non-stopping deadlines (like a camera ready for a paper, or a talk I gave two days after my return to Germany). It was a wonderful adventure and a good chance to reflect on my life here.
If you want to know more about what Laura is doing in her „normal“ life (i.e. at the MPI for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen), have a look at her personal page: Laura