The first demonstrator developed by Fagskolen i Viken is built in such a way that it utilizes a full IoT architecture enabling students to develop their skills and competencies. It targets 2nd year’s students at EQF level 4 and 5.
The snow depth demonstrator is developed to measure current snow depth on cabin roofs by a laser distance sensor. The responsible owner of the cabin is notified by an app for smartphone.
This is a very common issue in Norway where many people own a cabin in the woods and need to supervise snow load in winter to avoid crashing it.
Interview with Horatiu Pilsan, Professor for Electronic and Computer Engineering at FH Vorarlberg
You already have a Mechatronics degree at FH Vorarlberg allowing students to learn about smart, connected products. Could you give us some information about FH Vorarlberg and this degree?
FH Vorarlberg is a small University of Applied Sciences with approx. 1600 Students in the areas of Engineering & Technology, Business Administration, Design, Social Work and Health. In the field of Engineering, Mechatronics is the oldest degree programme with which the institution was founded, even though the name was not changed to Mechatronics until 2002. What was born out of necessity, in an attempt to provide the broadest possible education for a relatively small region, has become a unique feature over time, pioneering this education in the broader region.
Thus, what is your interest in participating in the DigiDemo project?
On the one hand, we have to keep our study programme at the cutting edge of technology, because mechatronic systems are becoming more and more networked and the role of cloud and IoT is growing. On the other hand, we can also learn a lot in the narrower field of mechatronics by participating in the project, sharing our experience with colleagues, and getting ideas and impulses from them.
You are responsible for the demonstrator framework. What is it, and what is it used for?
Even before the project started, we, the international project team, realized that there were different ideas about what a demonstrator is. This resulted in the need to define the properties and characteristics of a demonstrator and to record what information must be included in a description. We summarized this in the framework and validated it using a first prototype as an example. The suitability of subsequent demonstrators will be validated with the framework and they will be described according to it.
What is your first demonstrator, and how does it fit to the framework?
Our first demonstrator is the mechatronic setup used for the focus project (5th semester mechatronics bachelor). There is no doubt that it fits well into the framework, since it was described as a prototype in the framework. We have extended this setup and realized a cloud connection. This allows the students to learn which data to gather and how to analyse it in the cloud.
On the 7th December 2021, the students of the 5th semester of the mechatronics undergraduate program at FH Vorarlberg proudly presented their results of the focus project course. This course is based on the first demonstrator implemented in the DigiDemo Erasmus+ Project.
The 5th semester is the exchange semester in which many of the students working in the project are from partner institutions, and 15 students from Austria, Norway, The Netherlands, France, and Spain participated in the course, split into three teams of five people. The teams were mixed in several manners: Both exchange students (from different countries) and local students worked in a team. Students were allowed to choose between two courses “focus mechanical engineering” and “focus electronic engineering”, depending on their interests. And each team had students from both the mechanical and the electronic course.
A given gantry robot with X and Y axes controlled by a PLC had to be augmented. The task of the students was to add a Z axis moved by a stepper motor controlled by an embedded system, build a gripper and a spinning top (to be picked and then placed) and some other parts needed. The students’ task was not only to design, implement and test the missing components, but also to set up a requirements specification document, to put all things together and make the whole mechatronic system running.
In this article, DigiDemo team member Lasse Christiansen, lecturer at UCN and postdoc at Aalborg University, gives further insights into the theoretical aspects and considerations behind using demonstrators in teaching.
A way to activate and demonstrate knowledge
Over the last decades, the technical development in industry has intensified the need for a more cross-disciplinary approach within education. However, teaching has traditionally taken place in a mono-disciplinary setting at educational institutions. Consequently, there is a need to change the educational approach to ensure a stronger focus on the cross-disciplinary aspects. One such approach is the use of demonstrators. ‘Using demonstrators, taking a point of departure in practice, creates a natural cross-disciplinary setting for teaching. The different perspectives embedded in the demonstrator create a natural setting for cross-disciplinary activities.’, Lasse says. And he continues: ‘However, the use of demonstrators anchored in practice also creates an opportunity to activate the students’ prior knowledge.’. Merrill (2002) has operationalized the learning process, taking a point of departure in tasks linked to practice, into four steps: (1) the activation of prior knowledge, (2) the demonstration of new knowledge, (3) the application of the new knowledge, and (4) the implementation of the new knowledge in practice. ‘These principles can be used as inspiration to underpin the integration of demonstrators in teaching activities.’, Lasse explains. The use of demonstrators is, accordingly, not only anchored in a technical perspective, with the aim of demonstrating new technology and functionality. It is also anchored in a pedagogical and didactic theoretical foundation.
Time and room for reflection
However, to ensure learning, the students must be given both time and room for reflection. Connecting new and existing knowledge is a reflective process (Rutting et al., 2016), which is not necessarily occur by itself. RPL (Reflective Practice-based Learning), developed at UCN, consists of six core principles that can aid to ensure relevance and relatability to a learning activity. ‘These principles may serve as a pedagogical guideline in designing educational activities.’, Lasse explains. Besides activating the students’ own experiences (the 1st principle of RPL) as already mentioned, demonstrators can also be used both as a good example (4th principle of RPL) or as a boundary object to facilitate cooperation between students, and students and teachers (5th principle of RPL) (Horn et al., 2020). ‘Regardless of how you choose to integrate the demonstrators in the teaching activities, the importance is to create time and room for reflection.’, Lasse ends the interview.
Horn, L. H., Jensen, C. G., Kjærgaard, T., Lukassen, N. B., Sørensen, I. M., Valbak-Andersen, C., & Bundgaard, S. B. (2020). White Paper on Reflective Practice-based Learning. Professions and Professional-ism (Vol. 10). University College of Northern Denmark.
Merrill, M. D. (2002). First-principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59.
Rutting, L., Post, G., Keestra, M., de Roo, M., Blad, S., & de Greef, L. (2016). An introduction to interdisciplinary research : theory and practice. (S. Menken & M. Keestra, Eds.). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
About the DigiDemo project
The DigiDemo project aims at strengthening the students’ knowledge and competencies within digitalization and sustainability. Twenty educational demonstrators exemplifying and containing aspects within digitalizing and sustainability are created during the project to support the development of new educational activities among the partners.
Efficiently heating a building, and especially an educational institutions with many lecture rooms that are only partly used, is a real challenge to minimise energy consumption while maintaining a sufficient comfort for users.
The first demonstrator developed by ESTA Belfort consists en a connected thermostatic valve. Based on a given prototype, multi disciplinary groups of ESTA 4th years students with industrial and digital specialisations optimise the layout, add sensors, and develop an application to visualise captured data.
The DigiDemo project aims at strengthening the students’ knowledge and competencies within digitalization and sustainability while developing new products. To support this objective, 20 educational demonstrators are developed by the partners in the project intended to enable new educational activities within digitalization and sustainability. The concept of the demonstrators is to exemplify various aspects of product digitalizing and sustainability, aimed at educational programmes, both within the field of mechanics, IT, and Sales.
UCN now presents their first demonstrator, a smart chair. The demonstrator is already used in class and appreciated by the students. Read more.
Helene Mallasvik joined Fagskolen in Viken and the DigiDemo Team at the beginning of the month.
Helene is Senior Lecturer and Project manager at Fagskolen I Viken. She helds a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from Universitetet i Sørøst-Norge.
She is working and living in Kongsberg, Norway, and has been a teacher since 1989. She is specialized in pedagogical development and quality in training. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, running, and exploring the city by bike
Interview with Laure Viellard, Director of ESTA Belfort
Is the DigiDemo project the first Erasmus+ project at ESTA?
ESTA Belfort is a private higher education institution based in Belfort, close to the German and Swiss borders in Eastern France. We train sales engineers able to understand and to sell technical products. Therefore, they need both technical and commercial skills.
We are strongly cooperating with companies with regard to placements, lectures, projects, or company presentations. ESTA participated in other European co-funded projects (Interreg, Erasmus+) in the past. Our special interest in these projects lays in the improvement of our pedagogic programme and in the promotion and sharing of our double skills approach. And, finally, participating in European co-funded projects is important for us vis-à-vis to students, their parents, companies, or the national ministry of higher education.
What is your interest in participating in the DigiDemo project?
Today, we offer a sales engineering degree with three specialisations: Industry 4.0, ChemBiotech, and Digital transformation. Students follow the same lectures for sales, marketing, and management topics, but technical contents are mainly separated.
Modern products are getting more intelligent, we are speaking about Smart Products such as, e.g., connected refrigerators or loudspeakers. Even industrial machines are getting connected to facilitate data exchange, predictive maintenance, or to gather information for added-value services. This impacts not only engineering education; we must also train future sales engineers to be able to sell connected products!
DigiDemo allows us better integrating mechanical, electronics and digital contents. This is beneficial to our students who cooperate with pairs from other technical specialisations; and this will improve their future employability. And our sales and marketing contributions are bringing new aspects and insights to the pure engineering students at pour partner institutions.
ESTA will also benefit from the cooperation with our partners that is a good basis for further projects as well as for students’ and teachers’ exchanges.
How did you manage to integrate the project consortium?
We are always looking for opportunities to cooperate in projects that help us getting new insights and improving our programme. Concerning DigiDemo, we received a partner research alert from our French Enterprise Europe Network partner from Burgundy Franche-Comté. The DigiDemo’s lead partner University College of Northern Denmark shared, and we applied as potential partner. Our first online discussion went quite well, and finally UCN accepted us as partner. In January 2019, we then hosted the preparatory project meeting in Belfort where project details have been discussed and confirmed. We are very happy to be part of this interesting project.
What is the role of ESTA in the project?
As all partners, we are developing demonstrators of connected products that are used in class. This is the main objective of the project. All demonstrators will be publicly available and can be used by others.
In general, ESTA is involved in all work packages of the project. But we are responsible for two parts of the project:
1. The state-of-art analysis that led to the Mechatronics and IoT: Literature and study programme analysis deliverable with some interesting insights. There is a real need to complete mechanical as well as mechatronics studies with at least connectivity and network competences. This enables mechanical and electronics engineers to discuss with and understand computer science students that are responsible for IT networks and data-based services. These findings also confirmed the project partners’ choice to develop demonstrators of connected products for education in the DigiDemo project.
2. ESTA is also responsible for communication issues through the DigiDemo-Website and LinkedIn profile. And we are already looking forward to welcome partners and guests during the final DigiDemo conference in Belfort in June 2023. This will be a great opportunity to present demonstrators and to discuss results obtained through this European cooperation. And perhaps to start a new adventure with the partners?