“Engineering is Creating Things to Help People”
What the World Needs Right Now

College of Science and Engineering
Associate Professor Shima Okada

Interview date: October 20, 2020


New class formats and research styles created by the COVID-19 pandemic

How have your online classes been?

In the spring I taught two lecture subjects. I spent a great deal of time recording videos to upload every week.
 It was my first time teaching online, so I had some hesitation, but insofar as I had to create the videos, I wanted to make my classes enjoyable. With that in mind, I asked students for their feedback on my lecture videos.
 It just so happens that one of my students wants to be a YouTuber, and he gave me a lot of advice. For example, he told me that students would never watch a 90-minute video, so I prepared several shorter videos and added sound effects.
 The students told me the videos were easy to understand, so I was glad I worked hard on them.

Have students’ attitudes toward learning changed?

It feels like there are a lot of students who are taking a positive approach and thinking about what exactly they can achieve amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The signature course in the Department of Robotics is Robot Creation Lab, where students actually get to build robots.
 The theme for this course differs every year, so for 2020, I set the theme as overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic with robotics. Based on this, my students identified the difficulties that people are facing because of the pandemic, and they issued a wide range of proposals aimed at resolving those problems with robotics.
 For example, bottles of disinfectant spray are everywhere now, but they are mostly kept on high stands out of the reach of children. This led one of my students to come up with the idea of a robot that can raise and lower a stand to match the height of the user.
 In my final class, I plan to have each group present their findings in a five-minute video. I am excited to see what kind of videos they come up with. Recently, I am seeing more people use videos for presentations at academic society meetings and international conferences.
 With this in mind, I think giving students the experience of using technology and their own ideas to create appealing videos will be helpful for them in the future.

It seems many of your students were extremely motivated in class. Did you notice any changes in their research?

How will the relationship between robots and humans change?

What impact is the COVID-19 pandemic having on the field of robotics?

It seems that people’s values are changing significantly due to the change in lifestyle.

What can we do right now?

How should we live our lives while the virus is still with us?

Due to the pandemic, the world is in chaos, so the top priority in terms of both research and daily life, is to alleviate your most immediate worries.
 It is important to focus on the present while thinking about the future after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. They say the pandemic will lead to a new normal, but this has not happened yet. It will take shape going forward.
 The world of the future will be completely different, so what shape do we want it to take? I think we need a clear vision, and we need to focus on research that will help us shape our world.

How should students think and act amid this backdrop?

As I always tell the students in my lab, it is important that you learn how to identify problems on your own. It doesn’t matter how small something may be.
 The essence of engineering is creating things that can help people, so I hope everyone will keep this in mind. Once you enter the real world, you will need to be able to identify and solve problems.
 With all the problems laid bare by the pandemic, it is the perfect time for students to turn this predicament into a learning experience and an opportunity for growth. When major social transformations like this one occur, the need for new technologies emerges.
 I want our students to learn how to seize these kinds of opportunities. Some say we have already developed technology to the fullest, but there are still many things that we can do.


What can you do? What should you study?
It may be hard to stay positive amid the current situation,
but there are certain things you can only experience now.
It’s up to you to think about how you can harness these experiences for your own learning and growth.


Associate Professor Shima Okada

Affiliation: Department of Robotics, College of Science and Engineering

Areas of Expertise: Medical Systems, Applied Health Sciences, Perceptual Information Processing / Intelligent Robotics, Affective Informatics / Soft Computing


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