Pöhner (2021): Educational robotics competitions as out-of-school learning setting for STEM education: An empirical study on students’ learning of problem solving skills through participation in the World Robot Olympiad (Dissertation)


Pöhner, Nicolai: Educational robotics competitions as out-of-school learning setting for STEM education: An empirical study on students’ learning of problem solving skills through participation in the World Robot Olympiad. Dissertation, Universität Würzburg, 2021



Educational robotics is an innovative approach to teaching and learning a variety of different concepts and skills as well as motivating students in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. This especially applies to educational robotics competitions such as, for example, the FIRST LEGO League, the RoboCup Junior, or the World Robot Olympiad as out-of-school and goal-oriented approach to educational robotics. These competitions have gained greatly in popularity in recent years and thousands of students participate in these competitions worldwide each year. Moreover, the corresponding technology became more accessible for teachers and students to use it in their classrooms and has arguably a high potential to impact the nature of science education at all levels. One skill, which is said to be benefitting from educational robotics, is problem solving. This thesis understands problem solving skills as engineering design skills (in contrast to scientific inquiry). Problem solving skills count as important skills as demanded by industry leaders and policy makers in the context of 21st century skills, which are relevant for students to be well-prepared for their future working life in today’s world, shaped by an ongoing process of automation, globalization, and digitalization. The overall aim of this thesis is to try to answer the question if educational robotics competitions such as the World Robot Olympiad (WRO) have a positive impact on students’ learning in terms of their problem solving skills (as part of 21st century skills). In detail, this thesis focuses on a) if students can improve their problem solving skills through participation in educational robotics competitions, b) how this skill development is accomplished, and c) the teachers’ support of their students during their learning process in the competition. The corresponding empirical studies were conducted throughout the seasons of 2018 and 2019 of the WRO in Germany. The results show overall positive effects of the participation in the WRO on students’ learning of problem solving skills. They display an increase of students’ problem solving skills, which is not moderated by other variables such as the competition’s category or age group, the students’ gender or experience, or the success of the teams at the competition. Moreover, the results indicate that students develop their problem solving skills by using a systematic engineering design process and sophisticated problem solving strategies. Lastly, the teacher’s role in the educational robotics competitions as manager and guide (in terms of the constructionist learning theory) of the students’ learning process (especially regarding the affective level) is underlined by the results of this thesis. All in all, this thesis contributes to the research gap concerning the lack of systematic evaluation of educational robotics to promote students’ learning by providing more (methodologically) sophisticated research on this topic. Thereby, this thesis follows the call for more rigorous (quantitative) research by the educational robotics community, which is necessary to validate the impact of educational robotics.

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