Students design instructional materials to streamline robotics lab training

A student writes on paper in front of machines in the lab.
A student works in front of 3D printers in the robotics laboratory. Mercer University photo

In Mercer University‘s School of Engineering Machine Intelligence and Robotics Laboratory, students bring their ideas to life through projects involving a variety of machines, from 3D printers to laser cutters. 

But before they can let their creativity flow, they must be trained and certified in the equipment. Formal courses and materials designed by technical communication students are now making that process more consistent and efficient. 

Technical communication Instructor Hannah Nabi partnered with Dr. Anthony Choi, director of the Machine Intelligence and Robotics Laboratory and professor of electrical and computer engineering, for the project last fall.

Hannah Nabi

“With project-based learning, anytime you have a real client, it’s even better because the stakes are a little higher,” Nabi said. “Students get real-world experience, and there’s something about having their work be used that makes the experience and deliverables really effective. Dr. Choi was very enthusiastic about partnering and giving my students the opportunity to develop some training curricula, but it also really supported the work that he and students are doing in the robotics lab. So it was a really great pairing.”

The lab is run by students in the Mercer Robotics Club, under the oversight of Dr. Choi. For the past decade, club officers have led hands-on workshops to credential interested students in the use of the equipment. 

“The problem that we had was it was very informal,” Dr. Choi said. “There was a lack of consistent content and a way for us to assess what was happening and keep track of people in terms of their completion. This formalization that (Nabi) and her students did was an amazing improvement. It forced us to sit down and really think about this workshop content. Now, we have actual Canvas courses.”

Each of the seven students in Nabi’s Technical Communication 363: Instructional Design course last semester designed training curricula and support resources for a different workshop — lab safety, laser cutting, 3D printing, CNC machine, printed circuit boards, soldering and SolidWorks. Materials include comprehensive instructor guides and lesson plans, handouts, PowerPoint slides and “job aid” laminated posters to be displayed by the machines. 

Dr. Anthony Choi

The students, all technical communication majors or minors, also developed a credentialing system that includes a quiz in Canvas and an observed skills test. The materials were created so that they can easily be updated later, Nabi said. 

Robotics Club officers served as subject matter experts for Nabi’s students, answering questions and providing detailed information on the machine processes and training goals, Dr. Choi said.

“The students did such a phenomenal job,” Nabi said. “They got some really essential, transferable skills, but they also have a concrete real-world piece that they can put into their portfolios. I’m really proud of my students.”

Dr. Choi said the Robotics Club officers are starting to use the Canvas courses and materials for their workshops, and he anticipates positive feedback from the new training experience.

“It wasn’t just a course they created for us, but that process caused us to be more formal and caused us to be more methodical with what we want to achieve from these workshops,” Dr. Choi said. “This was a very worthwhile investment of my time and my students’ time because it really resulted in high quality instructional material that we intend to use for all future workshops for years to come.”

Senior Andrew Holland, an industrial management major and technical communication minor, designed the soldering workshop. He said the training materials can now be found in one centralized location and will ensure that everything taught is standardized.

“I laid out how to use the soldering iron and the specific safety steps, and then we had some learning activities also built into the lesson plan,” Holland said. “But what I created that was the most useful is the job aid. It has all the steps and all the safety information at a glance, so someone could look at that and ensure that they are still using the station safely.”

Holland is now applying what he learned in this course to his engineering senior design project. His team is working with Dr. Scott Schultz, professor of industrial engineering and industrial management and senior associate dean of the School of Engineering, to create job aids and lesson plans to teach students how to use the stations in the wood shop for the Touch3D Yearbooks that are make for students at the Georgia Academy for the Blind. Holland’s goal is to eliminate the knowledge gap for the project and make the production process more efficient.

“In some of my previous tech comm classes, we’ve practiced things like writing instruction and writing technically, but actually meeting with the subject matter experts, making job aids and creating lesson plans was all new to me,” Holland said. “It was a really great class. Working together and working on a project in a small group like that was a great way to learn.”

Senior Jaida Howell, a technical communication major, completed the instructional materials for printed circuit boards. She found the course to be fascinating and extremely helpful, and her experience with this real-world project furthered her passion for her chosen field. She wants to be a user experience designer after she graduates.

“In instructional design, you are focusing on creating an instructional program or guide for someone who doesn’t know anything about the subject,” Howell said. “I was able to build a whole workshop for something I didn’t know anything about. My project isn’t just for a grade; it’s to help someone. It’s just so cool that we helped build those workshops that will be used.”

A 3D printer custom-made by a student is shown in the Robotics Lab.
This 3D printer was custom made by a student in the robotics laboratory. Mercer University photo


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