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Blended Learning through Integrating Lego Mindstorms NXT Robots in Engineering Education

Excerpt

The current program for Mechanical Engineering at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany has more than 1500 students enrolled. Lego Mindstorms’ NXT Robots are fully integrated in the current Engineering Education stream to help students practically apply theoretical concepts. The courses Communication and Organizational Development (KOE) and Computer Science in Mechanical Engineering 1 (INFO1), provided by the interdisciplinary institute cluster IMA/ZLW, follow a newly-designed “blended learning” approach. This institute cluster is composed of the Institute of Information Management in Mechanical Engineering (IMA) and the Center for Learning and Knowledge Management (ZLW). These institutes are currently within the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at RWTH Aachen University.

Two years ago, the course KOE was redesigned and redirected towards a “Flipped Classroom” concept by initiating online lectures and a discussion class. Thus, the tutorial class ROBOFLEX as part of the KOE curriculum is introduced. ROBOFLEX is a two-stage business simulation that enables students to experience realistic virtual communication within computer science and engineering disciplines. Students are divided into groups of about thirty people, and become entrepreneurs and founders of start-ups that specialize in the production of innovative robots for the automotive industry. They create these robots using Lego Mindstorms’ NXT.

Since its conception, the course INFO1 has been accompanied by a lab component, where students apply the concepts taught in class in a team-focused software design project. In 2011, the lab concept was changed into a two-stage robotics programming project based on Lego Mindstorms’ NXT Robots and the Java programming language. In the first stage, students practice the fundamental programming concepts that are presented in the lecture by completing a series of exercises in a self-paced manner. The second stage focuses on applied problem-solving. In this stage, pairs of students apply the previously-learned programming concepts to program a “pick-and-place” robot that is equipped with various sensors.

The integration of Lego Mindstorms’ NXT Robots into these courses also join the concepts of the two described courses. While KOE delivers organizational and communicational skills, INFO1 provides technical and domain-specific skills. Here, the robots represent the connecting element. The problem-based second stage of INFO1 benefits from the skills that are taught in KOE. Because INFO1 is scheduled in the term following the KOE, it offers a direct opportunity for students to transfer the KOE skill set from the lecture where it was taught into a new context that is primarily concerned with a different subject. Both classes have been evaluated and developed independently in the past. Since last year’s introduction of ROBOFLEX in KOE, synergies between both lectures are becoming a main component of their further developments. In this paper the recent developments in both courses will be compared and discussed. Specific measurable effects concerning learning capability, motivation and learning endurance are being portrayed by using blended learning approaches.

Introduction: Student-Centered Education
Integrating LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robots
The KOE Business Simulation ROBOFLEX
The INFO1 Lab
Evaluation of KOE ROBOFLEX
Evaluation INFO1
Conclusion and Outlook
References

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