In this interview, Cristian-Paul Chioncel, Associate professor, from “Babeş-Bolyai” University Faculty of Engineering, gives his reflections on the conditions and the prospects of the educational system in Romania.
In general, Cristian-Paul Chioncel notes an educational system with a potential for further development: In Romania, there is a potential for further developing the educational system, supporting the companies and the economic changes. One aspect could be to focus even more on developing long-term national economic and education strategies.
He continues that another area with potential for development is a strengthened collaboration between academia and companies. In this process, demonstrators can play an active role in providing students with real-life cases and, hence, supporting the development of competencies demanded by SMEs. The demonstrators developed in DigiDemo are integrated into the teaching process as well as the applied laboratory work. Due to their cross-disciplinary nature, they help to develop additional competencies related to the disciplines covered. The use of demonstrators gives students the possibility to have a more direct perspective on the industrial environment. According to Cristian-Paul Chioncel, the DigiDemo project facilitates digitization at two levels: It strives towards using more of these demonstrators in the teaching process. Moreover, it aims to apply digital tools in companies.
Finally, he considers the future of education in a Romanian context: In general, the aim is to provide the students with essential competencies with a high degree of generality. We encourage students to be able to understand principles and different phenomena. In addition, the students should be supported in personal development.
Industry needs to become much more sustainable in developing and producing products that use less resources and energy, base on recycled or renewable materials, produce less waste, and can be used for long time.
DigiDemo partner Esben Laursen from UCN presents the concept of circular economy, one of the pillars of a sustainable industry.
The video targets students and interested people that want to discover the concept. See the video here.
Interview with Horatiu Pilsan, Professor for Electronic and Computer Engineering at FH Vorarlberg
In this interview, Horatiu Pilsan considers and discusses how the DigiDemo project supports the development of educational programs that meet the current needs of students and companies.
According to Horatiu, educational institutions must facilitate up-to-date programs for students aimed at a context with ever-changing needs. He states: As educational providers, we experience that dual studies are getting increasingly popular.
However, the pre-knowlegde and skills of the young people leaving high school has changed over time. Horatiu explains: The young people leaving high school are not used to reading long texts: They are more used to watching short video clips. Moreover, they often only have little or no vocational skills.
A core area in the DigiDemo project is to develop demonstrators to be used in teaching. Using the demonstrators will create an opportunity for the students to improve their vocational and professional skills. Moreover, it will simultaneously make it possible for the students to relate their field of study to other domains, improving their cross-disciplinary understanding.
Besides the requirement for a dynamic approach when planning educational programs, the partners behind the DigiDemo project have discovered a need for an alignment in expectations. Namely, a discrepancy occurs when companies articulate their wishes for their future employees; Horatiu explains: Companies want us to concentrate on technical skills rather than soft skills. However, they want to hire people with good social skills and cross-disciplinary competencies.
Participating in a project like DigiDemo makes it possible for us to address these challenges, developing our educational programs. Overall, the DigiDemo project aims to develop a framework that enables the students to develop skills that match the everyday requirements of the companies.
On 12th and 13th September, DigiDemo project partners met at FH Vorarlberg. Participants worked jointly on issues such as sustainability, evaluation or the training concept for teachers interested in reusing the demonstrators in their classes.
Surrounded by mountains and spoiled by the sun, this was a new opportunity to highlight the added value of the project and the synergies that can be created by collaboration.
We are continuing work and are looking forward to meeting us in January at our partner Centrul Universitar UBB Reşiţa (UBB) in Reşiţa/Roumania.
Monday 4 July 2022, researchers from the ESTA School of Business & Technology met to discuss research topics of colleagues and the future research strategy.
This was also an opportunity to present and discuss the DigiDemo results, and to use the project as sample when imaging new projects to be developed in the upcoming months through an interesting and active brainstorming process.
We’ll be ready for the Erasmus+ call for proposals 2023!
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.