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B³ - Projects - Hands-On 4.0


What is the “Hands-On 4.0” Project about?

Hands-on or experiential education per se, is not a new idea; but the term hands-on education 4.0 triggers associations with core technologies of the digitalization age including Cyber Physical-Systems (CPS), Internet of Things (IoT) and Cognitive Computing, which are associated with Industry 4.0 and the prime topics for the start of hands-on 4.0 at Jacobs University along with international partners. The development of Hands-On 4.0 has taken place at Jacobs University by introducing three courses that go beyond classical labs by featuring:

  • Open Source Lab Components developed by an international community like the Duckietown or the OpenAUV hard- and software.
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving in teams who jointly develop integrated solutions that need to address the multivariate, complex challenges of a competition.
  • Individualization as a core component of “Hands-On 4.0”:
    • There is a continuous reflection of each learner through self-assessment surveys and team briefings. Roles and tasks within a team are dynamically created and assigned to the learners in a decentralized process taking learners’ reflections, instructor assessments, and course ILOs into account.
    • Individualization is further fostered by rewarding progress across the whole course and by supporting the dynamic exchange of members across teams by a match-making process between a learner’s interests/capabilities and teams.

As the “Hands-On 4.0” Project began its work during the fall 2019, its work was very soon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a world-wide significant influence on all aspects of daily life including education. This also held for Jacobs University, where there was – like at almost all institutions – a rapid switch to online education. The researchers from “Hands-On 4.0” used this challenge as an opportunity to investigate the effects on robotics education. In this context, evidence for the following observations was found:

  1. Asynchronous online teaching can provide benefits over synchronous online teaching.
    1. Students appreciated the flexibility that asynchronous teaching material provides. This includes aspects with respect to both the timing, as well as the location of study.
    2. Keeping focused in online meetings was reported by students to be the main detrimental factor in online education, which is accordingly a challenge for synchronous online teaching.
    3. Videos are an increasingly important, if not the most important, form of study material for generation-Z; material that is specifically produced for online studies can hence have a high impact – especially in comparison to just a recording of a synchronous stream.
  2. Social interaction is an important factor, but it can happen in self-organized, smaller peer-groups:
    1. The lack of social interactions with other students, as well as with the instructor scores high among the detrimental factors in online education.
    2. There is a tendency for generation-Z to prefer small peer groups, which may reflect a reduced usage up to an avoidance of online forums and online sessions with the whole class if they are not essential for the studies.
    3. Social interactions among the students can emerge in self-organized study groups, likely using a substantial amount of social media, without the intervention of the instructor.
    4. Simple reminder emails can already have a positive effect; though there is the risk of just spamming students.

The “Hands-On 4.0” Team also experimented with different forms of hands-on education including face-to-face, take-home hardware, and the use of simulation tools. For the different slots in Fall 2020, different forms of robotics hands-on education were tried – partially also as response to, respectively in compliance with regulations due to the pandemic. In a thorough statistical analysis of the study results, however, no effects of the different forms could be detected. This may be explained by the relatively small number of samples, i.e., the need for further studies with more students. Furthermore, it may be that the different forms do not have a strong effect per se – but that there may be a stronger influence of personality traits; this hypothesis will be tested in a collaboration with the AMIGO project (another B³ Project) in larger student samples.

Furthermore, an international survey was conducted to investigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on labs and other forms of hands-on teaching in tertiary education in the area of robotics and automation. There is evidence that COVID-19 may trigger lasting effects on hands-on education on an international scale including:

  1. Instructors reported on average an expectation of changes to be permanent and there is a high correlation of this expectation with the actual changes reported by each participant.
  2. Amongst others, the pandemic may lead to an increased use of elements of online teaching and blended learning in robotics hands-on education.
    1. During the Covid-19 pandemic, alternative, less orthodox methods of engagement with robotics equipment came forward. Simulation environments for use at home emerged as the most important way of hands-on education in robotics and automation, with a focus on conceptual, rather than practical work.
    2. The use of take-home hardware could not substantially profit from the pandemic, and it stayed on a rather low level.
    3. Also, Though also still staying on rather low levels, the use of videos illustrating robotics hardware and of pre-recorded data did increase, but mainly for instructors who already used them before.

Project Chair: Prof. Dr. Andreas Birk, Prof. Dr. Francesco Maurelli
Collaborators: Dr. Evelina Dineva

  • Prof. Dr. Andreas Birk
    Jacobs University

  • Prof. Dr. Francesco Maurelli
    Jacobs University

“Hands-On 4.0” - Video with Prof. Dr. Andreas Birk

In this video, Prof Birk is talking about the B³ project “Hands-On 4.0” Individualized Applied Education in the Digitalization Age. “Hands-On 4.0” is seen as the next iteration in experiential learning. At Jacobs University, the development of hands-on 4.0 has taken place with the introduction of three courses that feature: Gamification; Open Source Lab Components; Collaborative Problem-Solving and Individualization.


Bibliographic References

(1) Andreas Birk, Evelina Dineva, Francesco Maurelli and Andreas Nabor. A Robotics Course during CoViD-19: Lessons Learned and Best Practices for Online Teaching beyond the Pandemic. Robotics, 10(1),, MDPI, 2021

(2) Andreas Birk and Dora Simunovic. Robotics Labs and Other Hands-On Teaching During COVID-19: Change Is Here to Stay? IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine (RAM), DOI: 10.1109/MRA.2021.3102979, 2021

(3) Francesco Maurelli, Evelina Dineva, Andreas Nabor, and Andreas Birk. Robotics and Intelligent Systems: a new curriculum development and adaptations needed in Coronavirus times. Robotics in Education (RiE), 2021

(4) Andreas Birk and Evelina Dineva. Improved Students’ Performance in an Online Robotics Class during COVID-19: Do Only Strong Students Profit? Robotics in Education (RiE), 2021