Computer programming may be an intimidating skill to learn. It's a process of creating a set of instructions to tell a computer how to perform a task. The Information Systems (IS) program in Millikin University's Tabor School of Business is helping lower the barrier of programming by offering a dual credit course called Programming Fundamentals.
The course is a unique partnership between Millikin University and Decatur Public Schools (DPS). DPS high school students are able to take the Millikin course as a result of gifts made to the Decatur Public Schools Foundation. The course satisfies one of the degree requirements for the Information Systems major at Millikin, and it benefits students who decide to enter the technology field.
RJ Podeschi, assistant professor of information systems at Millikin, teaches the programming course.
"One of the issues is that many people feel intimidated by programming, and the idea of the course is to give students that experience," Podeschi said.
The course introduces students to the process of creating and implementing typical solutions to business problems requiring computer programming skills. The focus of the course is to help students understand the basic concepts of computer programming while emphasizing design over syntax – a particular layout of words and symbols. The course teaches an object oriented approach using the Java programming language.
Recently, Podeschi introduced the concept of programming to his students by using Pro-Bot programmable floor robots.
"The Pro-Bot robotic cars allow you to still do all the typical programming functions, including things like conditional logic and loops," Podeschi said. "The cars have sensors built into them, so when students run into a barrier they have to turn the car around and come back another direction."
The Pro-Bot is a turtle robot disguised as a race car. Pro-Bot commands are entered by a set of arrow and number keys mounted on the back. Students plan a route for the Pro-Bot and press the corresponding keypad controls. The Pro-Bot will then follow the sequence of commands that were entered step-by-step.
The Pro-Bot has several built-in sensors located in the front and rear bumpers as well as sound and light sensors. The Pro-Bot can also hold a felt-tip pen in the center, allowing it to draw as it moves.
The students were broken up into teams and given an objective to achieve with the robot during the class period.
"It's a lot of testing. You have to test everything before you can actually understand what exactly needs to happen," said Decatur high school student Sierra Reed. "Even though it's not very mathematical, you still have to know how far you have to go for certain things, and to know what numbers and angles to use."
In reference to the mix of high school and Millikin students in the course, Podeschi says, "The high school students are highly motivated and they certainly have some interest in technology and programming in the future. Being able to have Millikin students work with high school students creates a great mentorship opportunity."
Podeschi says the students will have more opportunities during the course to work in pairs to develop programs.
The Information Systems program at Millikin University provides the opportunity for students to obtain the skills to be a key player in building information systems to improve the business operations and decision-making of 21st century organizations. For more information about the program, visit millikin.edu/IS.