Teaching in pace with the times


Teaching in pace with the times

TU-scientists support vocational schools on their path into the future

Digitalisation is fundamentally changing the working world, and also presents vocational colleges with new challenges. Educators in the didactics of technology at the TU Darmstadt are supporting them on their path into the future.

Professor Ralf Tenberg. Bild: Katrin Binner
Prof. Ralf Tenberg with an iPad that belongs to a Tec2screen. Image: Katrin Binner

Enter the light, modern room, and you walk into an Industry 4.0 scenario. Eight modules are available here for the new way of teaching that is “in pace with the times”, including a digitally controlled high-bay warehouse, robot assembly station, automated CNC milling machine and a station for the camera-operated quality control – all the usual components that are linked together in a factory. An intelligent sample piece goes through production, bringing the information required for its manufacture with it. Pupils and teachers are just discussing how processes could be further improved.

It is a “Smart factory” on a scale of 1:1 that went into operation at the Philipp Matthäus Hahn School (PMHS) in Balingen in Germany at the start of the 2017/2018 academic year. It is part of the Learning factory 4.0, which also includes a mechatronics laboratory where students learn the principles of programmed controls and are able to simulate automatic processes on a tablet. The vocational college centre on the Schwäbische Alb has bade farewell to “as you were” learning. Experts in the didactics of technology education from the TU Darmstadt are supporting the school in this as part of the project “Digitalisation and vocational training”.

“We wanted to set a starting point for a new way of learning and the co-operation with the training facilities,” explain Heiko Käppel and Markus Häusel. The two engineers and vocational college lecturers are furthering learning factory and project at the PMHS. They want to familiarise the next generation with the digital working world, with its fast innovations and increasingly short half-life periods for knowledge – without ditching the strong principles acquired in analogue learning. Professor Ralf Tenberg, head of the working area of the Didactics of Technology Education, describes what awaits young people in technical professions today thus: “The role of the specialist is moving away from the centre of the systems behind them.” They were facing highly complex technology, and were increasingly becoming knowledge workers. Access to machinery would become less and less directly operative, and instead increasingly sensory, analytical and diagnostic. “We are practically training into a vision,” says the expert.

In the thriving region of the PMHS, companies are increasingly opting for full automation. They need people with sound technical knowledge, but also with methodical, personnel and social expertise. No company can afford familiarisation times of up to six months any more, as the qualified mechatronics engineer Mikel Weisser, who is currently training as a certified automation technician, knows only too well. As part of his dual training, the 22-year-old has hardly had any contact with the subject of “Industry 4.0”. But he and his fellow students appreciate the high-calibre facilities of the PMHS that much more. The practical experience that they are able to gain here through “learning by doing” in an industry setting provides them with a tremendous advantage later on in their professional careers.

New educational concepts

Lernfabrik in der Berufsschule: Neue Lernprozesse lösen alte Lehrformate ab. Bild: Christoph Jäckle
Learning factory at vocational college – new learning processes are replacing old teaching formats. Image: Christoph Jäckle

But the equipment alone is not enough. Without new educational concepts and changes in the organisation of the school, nothing will happen. “We need to teach differently,” say the two project supporters. Which is why they are trying not only to mesh theory and practice more successfully in a holistic approach, but also to teach the basic knowledge, simulations and implementation of the course content, in an integrated basis on machines and systems. The aim is also to improve the interplay between students, teachers and trainers by means of a collaborative digital platform. So a “genuine” transfer of knowledge would be encouraged between the school and companies on the one hand, but also amongst the companies on the other.

It is an ambitious project, and one that, with regard to uncertainties and provisos in particular, also requires presentations and coaching amongst the staff. As part of the scientific backing, Professor Ralf Tenberg and Dr. Detlef Messerschmidt are supporting the school on every relevant level. The Darmstadt experts are supporting the further development of the didactic-methodical concepts for lessons, encouraging team-building amongst the staff, developing new forms of co-operation between the learning venues, and also guiding the necessary further development of the school organisation. “What we're doing here is classic change management,” explains Tenberg. “And our aim is that the participants should make the change in technology and the working world their own change.”

The well-founded analysis and evaluation by the scientists secure a sustainable design that will continue long after the end of the project. The PMHS is currently well on track, which is evident just from a look at the learning field of “Process optimisation”. Until now, 16 students were “taught” simultaneously on an old five-axle robot, learning basic programming steps at the most, but now the whole world of robotics is opened up to the budding industrial mechanics. On two modules at the learning factory, or on the digital twin of the machines, they can act out or simulate specific problems, develop solutions for process optimisation and back-couple them perspectively to their training organisations via the collaborative platform “Moodle”.

“With this scientific support, this could lead to a lighthouse project for school development,” believe Käppel and Häusel. Ralf Tenberg has his sights set beyond the vocational college landscape. Although technology education overall has become a recognised field of science since its launch at the TU Darmstadt nine years ago in line with digital transformation and the debate surrounding Industry 4.0, the expert believes there is still a tremendous need for action at general schools. His vision: technology as a compulsory subject from nursery school to every area of training.

The Didactics of technology education at the TU Darmstadt

The working area of Didactics in Technology Education Human Sciences carries out publicly funded research and development projects. It is currently supporting the projects “Digitalisation in vocational training” by the land Baden-Württemberg and “Digitalisation in vocational training” by the land Hesse; the pilot project “Sustainability audits in vocational training”, by the Federal Institute of Vocational Training, and the land Hesse's school trial “Vocational college at the transition in training”. The working area has a new learning and teaching lab that meshes theory and practice, and provides trainee vocational teaching staff with an innovative learning environment.

Philipp Matthäus Hahn School

The Philipp Matthäus Hahn School (PMHS) has around 2500 pupils, and is the commercial school centre of the Zollernalbkreis. The 2016/2017 school year saw the launch of one of 16 “Learning factories 4.0” in the land. They are supported by the land Baden-Württemberg along with the current project “Digitalisation in vocational training”. It involves two pilot classes of the PMHS – trainee mechanics in their second training year, and future industrial mechanics in the third year of their training.

Read more research stories here:

go to list