University of Porto, Engineering Faculty (PORTUGAL)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN16 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 419-426
ISBN: 978-84-608-8860-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2016.1078
Conference name: 8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2016
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Problem-Based Learning (PBL) has been used in several domains for almost two decades as a more efficient way to develop the desired skills in students. This approach lends itself well to teaching Industrial Communication Systems, allowing the students to acquire skills that enable them to solve a large set of concrete problems in an industrial context and the collection of tools designed constitute a flexible yet low cost teaching laboratory for this domain that include software and hardware parts identical to that used in the real world. The software part includes a plant floor simulator that is highly configurable. The hardware part include an Arduino based hardware platform that allows the students to work with other physical plant floor simulators.

This laboratory setup can be used as a basis for a new course on Industrial Communication Systems that follows the PBL approach. The course itself is organized into several sections each of which addresses a real-world problem together with methods and technologies for solving it. Students are challenged to implement a distributed industrial automation system using networked devices. The high reconfigurability of the plant floor simulator allows an easy tuning of the problem to be addressed by the students taking into account their background and skills at each phase of the course.

The course proposes a sequence of lab and research works designed to foster deep knowledge. The inexpensive hardware used is treated as a case study but students are also encouraged to extrapolate on the usage of more sophisticated industrial class hardware. Research work is used to promote this extrapolation of knowledge and also to get to know current technological market, including price information of each class of solution.

A version of this course is running at the Integrated Master in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Porto, Portugal (in the 4th year in a 5 year programme) and has produced encouraging results. This course has also been adapted and offered as one of several modules in the MEDIS European project. MEDIS (A Methodology for the Formation of Highly Qualified Engineers at Masters Level in the Design and Development of Advanced Industrial Informatics Systems). Currently, two instances of the industrial networks module have been offered and completed at two non-EU partner universities (Ukraine and Kazakhstan). The remaining universities will offer this same module for the first time in the second semester of the currently ongoing school year.

The paper will start from the interest in leveraging PBL in teaching Industrial Communication Systems to motivate the development of the referred course and teaching tools. The paper will then present and discuss the course, its objectives, organization and approach. The following sections will focus on the teaching tools, describing hardware and software modules as a portable, flexible and inexpensive laboratory setup. Finally, the paper will include a discussion on the effectiveness of the proposed teaching tools and approaches, lessons learned regarding the design process and feedback from partners and students.