Students gathered in the lobby of Luddy Hall, collaborating, building, and making improvements to the spectacular home of the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, such as adding a water slide and a roller coaster.
It was just like old times, except, of course, it was all virtual.
The Luddy School welcomed 65 high school students from three countries to the Luddy Pre-College Summer Program, a five-day virtual camp for students to explore how the Luddy community uses and designs computational tools to solve problems in engineering, science, and society. Campers learned about intelligent sound-processing, microbiome gene sequencing, biologically inspired robotics and field science robots, 3D modeling and photogrammetry, virtual world design, strategic intelligence, makerspaces, designing for humans and animals, and more.
The centerpiece of the camp was a 3D model of Luddy Hall imported into the Minetest game engine, an open-source, Minecraft-style program in which students could work together to improve Luddy Hall, import their own monumental 3D designs, or build and program electronics, such as smart lighting systems or automatic doors to underground research labs.
“You could tell how much they enjoyed interacting with each other,” said Matt Francisco, a lecturer at the Luddy School and one of the organizers of the event. “The Luddy model worked great in terms of forming the kind of social connections that you normally have in an in-person camp environment and wouldn’t be possible over Zoom.”
Campers were helped by 13 current Luddy students who acted as facilitators to allow participants to work through any technical difficulties or answer questions. Presentations were also given by 14 Luddy faculty members and two Ph.D. students from the informatics, computer science, intelligent systems engineering, and information and library science programs at the school.
“We introduced them to the whole range of ideas and tools that Luddy has to offer,” said Natalie Edwards, the director of undergraduate recruitment at Luddy. “A week prior to the camp, our facilitators contacted each student and did a personal walkthrough to get their technology set up. It was part of the personal touch that is such a part of the Luddy School. We felt like that was necessary so that we can make sure that all these students were set up to go day one versus spending extra time making sure people didn’t have issues. We didn't want to waste that time because the faculty had so much to share.”
Beyond the Luddy Hall model, campers also learned about how to set up their programming and communications infrastructure, make and analyze meaningful datasets (such as server logs and genetic data), the basics of programming, how deep fake video and audio processing is accomplished, and the ethics underpinning technology.
“We were working on multiple levels,” Francisco said. “From low-level technical stuff to how apps work and working with systems. Students can get frustrated during their first year of college when dealing with infrastructure issues, and this camp helped provide some methods for solving those types of problems so they’ll be ready to deal with that.”
Students also communicated over a Discord channel with instructors and each other, and the channel has remained active even after the camp closed. The virtual Luddy Hall is still available for campers to visit, and Francisco hopes to keep it open to allow students to invite family members to check out their work.