Learning the language of tomorrow’s problem solving

An autonomous robot used in labs at Iowa State for teaching the programming of various agricultural technologies.Years from now, a child could walk into an implement dealership and see robots for sale alongside tractors and combines. So students at Iowa State are finding themselves on the edge of a new frontier in agricultural technology. How do Iowa State faculty prep those students for the future of precision agriculture? Hear from John Haughery, an assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, in this episode of Factor Analysis.

 

Announcer
Welcome to Factor Analysis, an in depth conversation of engineering knowledge from the classroom to the field, and topical issues surrounding work and life from an engineer’s viewpoint.

Kate Tindall
Welcome to another episode of Factor Analysis. I’m your host Kate Tindall. I’m joined today by John Haughery. He’s an assistant professor of Ag and Biosystems Engineering here at Iowa State. John, welcome to the podcast.

John Haughery
Thank you. Thanks for having me, Kate.

Kate Tindall
So I’m going to start us off with my first question, what classes do you usually teach, especially the ones related to robotics?

John Haughery
So the primary one I teach related to robotics would be TSM 115, solving technology problems

Kate Tindall
and what does TSM stand for, for those folks who may not be as familiar with our catalog

John Haughery
Technology Systems Management. So those are the courses that we teach in our department that are primarily relegated to our access of technology, major students and our industrial technology major students

Kate Tindall
Talk me through maybe a typical class period, perhaps one in the lab where students are working with the robots or doing the coding, for example here.

John Haughery
So the course is a problem solving course. So we would cover fundamentals of how we solve technical problems in an example or an application that I bring into that course as a robotics project, an element also of the courses, teaching students kind of fundamentals of programming, both those things lend themselves very well to a robotics project. And so students are given an opportunity to program a robot to go through a course, either manufacturing simulated course where they program the robot to navigate to different work cells and deliver material autonomously, or harvest thing like they’re in the field and they’re autonomously harvesting, so and then offloading it to the grain car, just to give them an opportunity to simulate some real world applications that they might see in their future careers.

Looking for that black line, it’s adjusting as it needs to. So students need to understand how to logical and conditional questions and programming structure. So “if I see the black line on the right, then what do I do?” kind of a process. And so in the class period, I’m starting off the class period with anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes of mini lecture, it’s a flipped design. So they’ll come already having read or reviewed lecture videos. And so the primary focus of the course in class is then them working through their activities and their projects. And then I’m, I’m able to be there with my TAs to answer all the questions that come up in the moment.

Kate Tindall
I’m sure you get a lot of questions, quite honestly, especially during that coding process.

John Haughery
Very much. Yes.

Kate Tindall
What would you say is the most challenging part of the course and building off of that question, maybe what is the most number or the Number one thing you hope that your students get out of your course?

John Haughery
So I think that the programming piece of the course traditionally is the hardest for students.

Kate Tindall
Gives the students the most amount of grief.

John Haughery
Yes, it’s you have to be very systematic in how you approach that. And that’s a thing that I’m hoping to impart to them a way of thinking systematically through their problem solving, whether it’s with a programming example problem, or a brain quality problem or a manufacturing logistics problem, right? We need to think systematically about how we’re going to solve the problems we’re solving. So that’s really the big kind of overarching goal I have for the students. But definitely when we get to the programming, a lot of them are not computer science majors, computer engineering majors. That’s not what they’re here for. But we still are hoping that they’re familiar enough with software programs and automated systems to be able to communicate and talk with people that maybe are the experts in those areas and those technologies. A lot of our students will be in management positions. So they need to understand the system and how the system kind of fits together. And more and more prevalent is automated systems.

Kate Tindall
Right. Talk to me a little bit, you are interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Can robotics affect students motivation and academic success? What does your knowledge of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning tell you about how robotics motivates students to succeed in a class?

John Haughery
When we talk about Scholarship of Teaching and Learning really, we’re just talking about approaching how we teach and how we help students learn from a scholarly perspective, looking at literature to inform the pedagogy is that we use and then collecting data on student learning and having that peer reviewed and disseminating that. So really, it’s the scientific process of how we teach and how students learn really, but the literature will show that when we can give students tangible things, hands on

Kate Tindall
Getting their hands dirty, basically,

John Haughery
Exactly. That’s when they really can get engaged. Now there are other things can engage students, right, different people will be engaged in different ways. But a lot of the students that come through our department are those hands on active learners experiential learners, where a hands on robotics project really lends itself to that type of learner. So when I pull out the robot and tell them, here’s what we’re going to program, they maybe get a little bit nervous about the programming piece…

Kate Tindall
Who wouldn’t, right?

John Haughery
When they when they see the robot hardware, and they see how it functions and moves, that’s when they get interested. And so that’s an interesting piece to me as a researcher, understanding why and what behind that phenomenon of the students interest specifically in that robotic hardware and system.

Kate Tindall
I’m going to ask you probably, in my opinion, one of the hardest questions that I’ll have today, you talk about the system sometimes being challenging to students, maybe they haven’t run into a system like this before or programming before. The ag and engineering industries are changing by the minute they are adapting very quickly to change or trying to adapt very quickly to changes that are coming their way. Sometimes change in these industries can be met with skepticism. How can your students with the knowledge they’re gaining right here at Iowa State be advocates for the best, most useful, most progressive practices?

John Haughery
Yeah, that’s a big question.

Kate Tindall
It is, it is a big question. And it’s something that I think the industry as a whole is grappling with right now. How do we how do we deal with changes as they’re coming at us, especially high tech changes.

John Haughery
So one thing that’s important to our department and imparting to our students is a systems thinking approach. So looking at the whole system, and so in our department, we pride ourselves on having the whole spectrum designing the ag equipment to manufacturing the ag equipment to the effective sustainable management of the equipment in the ecosystem that we’re using the equipment and we kind of feel we have a very good graph that whole spectrum. And so we’re trying to impart to our students kind of this whole spectrum systems way of thinking. It’s not just this minute technology that’s really cool and interesting and can improve efficiency, maybe in this one piece. But how does that impact the people in the system, the ecosystem, the environment, the broader landscape of the industry, or the suppliers, vendors, we’re really trying to pull back and kind of, we deal with the details, but we really want to connect those to the bigger picture. My answer, really, I guess, to your question would be when we can think about the whole system, we have a better chance of coming to a good solution that’s positive for everyone,

Kate Tindall
Maybe also stopping some of the problems before they happen?

John Haughery
Sure. Correct. That would be the goal. Yeah. So sometimes, the bigger the problem is, the further out we need to zoom out to get a better picture of what really a good solution looks like.

Kate Tindall
If someone wants to ask you why should we include robotics in students’ curriculum, why is this study important? What would you say to them?

John Haughery
I can speak to our students and the places they go and work in. They work in places that have automated systems of all levels from aerial and land, autonomous unmanned vehicles and ag to highly automated systems and manufacturing and anywhere in between. So they are going to most likely go into a field or career that they do or they will deal with automated equipment, and it’s only becoming more and more technologically advanced. And so that’s the future that they’re walking into. So being a give them an experience at some level of those systems. My interpretation in my experience is beneficial to them.

Kate Tindall
Well, and as you kind of hinted at, it’s not going away anytime soon. So we need to know how to work with it. And we need to know to work with the people who work with it.

John Haughery
Correct. So a big positive element for that those technologies is the improved efficiencies and long term economic benefits. We don’t have to pay a robot benefits or a robot usually doesn’t go out sick, right?

Kate Tindall
Or vacation time, they don’t need that either.

John Haughery
They do have to be maintained they do have to be, you know, there’s some upkeep to it. But there is some clear economic benefits to those systems. But there’s also some impacts to the humans as well that we need to be considering.

Kate Tindall
Well, and at this point, there’s still a person behind the curtain right behind that robot. There needs to be somebody else is that correct?

John Haughery
Yes. And so as a lot of futurists or people that will talk about as technology increases and becomes more advanced than the level of our human capacity needs to also increase and think historically, when you look at very large or big or significant technological advances. Usually they lead to improved quality of life, but that requires society and humans in those scenarios to adapt.

Kate Tindall
And sometimes humans are better at adapting and sometimes it takes us a little bit of time. I’m going to change directions just for the last question. You’re tightly tied to Iowa State. You’re not just a professor here or a faculty member, you also came to Iowa State to get your doctoral degree. Is that right?

John Haughery
I did.

Kate Tindall
Excellent. Tell me a little bit about why you chose Iowa State. Why did you want to come here?

John Haughery
So I’m from the east coast, from Pennsylvania, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s a big ag environment in Lancaster. My background is more in the manufacturing field. But when I was looking for schools, kind of across the Midwest, when I got the acceptance from Iowa State and I interacted with faculty here, I felt like there was a very strong student focused nature for the department here. And that was what I was the most concerned with coming to a big university like Iowa State, I had gone to smaller universities. And so there was real question mark for me, am I just going to be another number or am I going to be a actual person and from the first interaction, every interaction since then, I’ve always felt like the ABE department and Iowa State as a whole is really student focused. That’s something that they pride themselves on, it’s something that our department has is a key mission and vision statement for our department, is the students and how we educate our students. That was a, a really strong plus, that drew me.

Kate Tindall
Speaking as a fellow Iowa State grad, I felt the exact same thing. So it’s always nice to hear we know that students are important here at Iowa State. And that’s going to do it for this episode of Factor Analysis. John, thank you so much for talking with us.

John Haughery
My pleasure. Thanks, Kate.

Kate Tindall
To our listeners. Thanks for tuning in. If you haven’t already, hit that subscribe button wherever you listen to podcasts, and we look forward to seeing you again right here on Factor Analysis.

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Factor Analysis is produced by Iowa State University’s College of Engineering for a list of ways to keep up with the college including more podcasts, social media and apps go to engineering.iastate.edu. Music by Lee Rosevere and used under Creative Commons license.

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