Last Saturday CalPoly Pomona hosted there first-ever North American Drone Educator’s Conference. Folks from across California (and a few from further afield) gathered on a warm Saturday afternoon at the Kellogg Conference Center in Pomona, California to discuss a myriad of aspects of teaching students to create, use, and become otherwise professional members of our burgeoning UAV community.
Those of us who have been working to professionalize the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have accumulated many arrows in our backs and a surprising number of battle scars over the past few years. Taking new ideas into academia sounds like something easy and natural; Isn’t that what a university is supposed to be about in the first place?!? But when it comes to new technologies and systems that are so different from our common experience AND that interact with folks outside of the confines of our campuses in potentially revolutionary or disruptive ways, caution and trepidation are the norm. “Just wait around until other people have figured it out, have made all the standards, defined the debate, and then we will just follow them,” is the increasingly common response from administrations (especially the risk management folks) and those in charge of setting policy.
The response many of us trying to interject UAV efforts into formal educational programs have received is either crickets chirping (from the non-confrontational folks) or “wow, let me study this and have our lawyers look this over” (a mantra repeated for months or years on end). When some kind of answer other than an outright “no, you can’t do that” pops into our email inbox, it is most often, “Can you please send along some examples of other programs that are doing this now?” And therein lies the rub. With so many apparent reasons to avoid the perceived headache of diving into the deep end of the UAV pool, committees and administrators charged with approving new curricula want to see a tried and true model of effective UAV education. (I am so grateful to have already passed through those hurdles at my own institution.)