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Sensing in Animals and Robots: Collaborative, Transdisciplinary Learning in an Undergraduate Science Course

Journal of College Science Teaching—March/April 2024 (Volume 53, Issue 2)

By Anna DeJarnette, Stephanie Rollmann, Dieter Vanderelst, John Layne, Anna Hutchinson

Transdisciplinary learning—where students develop and apply knowledge from multiple disciplines to solve open-ended problems—is necessary to prepare students for the most pressing real-world problems. Because transdisciplinary education often requires reimagining the content and design of undergraduate science courses, it can be a challenge for instructors to envision how such work might take place. With this paper, we share an example of an undergraduate course developed at the intersection of animal sensory biology and robotics engineering. Students in the course developed knowledge from both disciplines to design a robot that could mimic the sensory behaviors of some animal to achieve a pre-determined task. We share examples of students’ work in the course and evidence of how students’ perceptions of science and engineering changed throughout their participation in the course. Additionally, we describe how we adapted a hybrid hybrid model of collaboration that made it feasible for students to work together on an open-ended project requiring access to robotics equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. This course can serve as a model for instructors working to incorporate more interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary perspectives into existing science courses.

Biology Engineering Interdisciplinary Robotics STEM Technology Postsecondary

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