The increasing complexity of mining operations results in increasing requirements for the mining engineering education. The demand of broad skills sets in constantly equal sized programs is the reason to blend the addressed skills in teaching and learning activities. A promising approach represents the experiential learning in an authentic environment. The article introduces the challenges in mining engineering education as well as the approach of experiential learning and skill sets. Subsequent, opportunities for innovative underground learning spaces are described using the examples of the training mine Recklinghausen, the research and teaching mine Reiche Zeche and the research and teaching mine Rammelsberg.
The extraction of raw materials is made possible by the interaction of technology, environment and persons. The deposit, which describes the mining environment and specifies operation parameters, represents the base. Besides rock, host rock and surface properties, the legal framework, the existing infrastructure and the local communities determine required measures for the realization of a project. Within this framework, the available technologies have to be applied to mine raw materials and generate usable products. Due to the constant development of technology, mining can be undertaken in more complex situations. Hence, the technological circle in figure 1 is getting wider and covers more environmental conditions. The third essential pillar are the people in mining who choose, based on the environment, the technologies, operate them, and guide through the process. The education and training of mining engineers and mining technologist represents an essential corner stone of mining activities.
Considering the future of mining, a development of the environmental conditions can be observed. Besides the increasing complexity of deposits, more safety, environmental protection, and inclusion of the communities are claimed with a constant cost pressure. Those changes are pictured in the goals of Mining 4.0 through “selective production of raw materials, autonomous production, transport and processing, and minimal impact on man and the environment” (1). The involvement of different disciplines and their interconnection play a central role in this development.
A sustainable education enables to work after the fourth and fifth industrial revolution. Mining engineers in the Mining 4.0 are connectors between the disciplines (2). Hence, the needed skill sets become broader and the professional competence is exceeded. Based on the division into professional skills, methodical skills, social skills, and self-competence, table 1 shows an example for the skill sets of mining engineering in Mining 4.0 (3).
Aim of the professional education is that the students gain the needed competences for their career. According to this goal, measures should be implemented to foster the development of skills.
Traditional approaches in education aim to teach expert knowledge resulting in technical skills. Widening the curriculum by courses that cover the other skills is either exceeding the limits of the program or leads to the cancellation of courses. Due to the fact that this approach is not implementable, holistic teaching-learning-activities need to be designed addressing several competences.
Experiential learning, provides a possibility for multilayered courses (4). It transfers the natural learning process in the education. The experiential learning model is based on four stages, which form a cycle: an experience is followed by observations and reflections in the second stage, where data about the experience is collected by reflecting on the experience. In the third stage the data is analyzed during the formation of abstract concepts and generalization. The developed concept is tested in the fourth stage with implementation and application to a new situation. This learning behavior can be fostered by the arrangement of experiences and the support in observations, reflection and analysis. Especially in practical application, the experiences of the learner are multilayered.
For the practical application, direct measures like mine visits as well as indirect measures like the implementation of virtual realities provide possibilities for experiences inducing a learning process. However, these situations show disadvantages. A virtual reality is limited to the visual impression and is also limited in actions, however it provides many possibilities. Therefore, the integration of real projects is essential.
The effort to visit mines outside the domestic environment is high, so the portfolio of experiences is mostly restricted on the German raw materials extraction field for German universities. Besides classic field trip, projects in cooperation with active mines provide the possibilities to learn in real surroundings. Nevertheless the effort on all sides, the mine, the teachers and the learner, is extraordinary. Withal, safety measures and production are restricting the options and are challenging.
Some learning spaces allow experiential learning in an authentic underground environment without the mentioned disadvantages. Examples are the training mine (TZB) of RAG Aktiengesellschaft in Recklinghausen, the teaching and research mine Reiche Zeche of the TU Bergakademie Freiberg in Freiberg as well as the research and teaching mine Rammelsberg in Goslar and the Learning Lab of Clausthal University of Technology. Below, this learning spaces and its usage in education are presented and advantages and challenges of implementation are shown.
2 Training Mine Recklinghausen
After the expire of the German hard coal mining in 2018, the TZB in an old waste rock heap in Recklinghausen offers the complete interior of an underground mine in the current state of the art. This place is used by the mine rescue brigades as practice course. National and international students, school classes, people interested in mining and experts from the field of raw materials use the place for knowledge transfer under real conditions. Besides, it is representing a showcase for machinery and equipment manufacturers and service providers in the field of mining.
2.1 Usage through the ages
The mine workings are situated in a waste rock heap in Recklinghausen. Since 1975, apprentices from the former Ruhrkohle AG have developed the 1,200 m of roadways and equipped it with real infrastructure. The mining technologies which is normally spread over many square kilometers in a great depth can be reached easily at one place and used for training, research and testing. In single and combined set-ups, machinery and equipment can be tested and get approved by mining authorities. At the moment, there is a practice course for mine rescue brigades, which can be nebulized, two longwalls – plough and shearer (Figure 2) – with transfer station as well as belt road and tail gate, three conventional road headings (Figure 3) and a shaft with bobbin. The shield support is identical to the support used at Ibbenbüren coal mine with the only difference of the depth of 1,5 km less. Besides mining technologists, further mining professionals like electronic and mechanic technicians as well as suppliers and disposers are trained. In total, 44 mining specific courses for specialist workers, technicians and engineers are existing. The number of participants from China, Latin America, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia and Vietnam increases.
2.2 The future of a hands-on facility
Besides practical training at equipment, technologies and processes, the utility value can be described through multiple, multidisciplinary contents. This includes the procedures in a mining operation from the deposit to the mining tasks, the machinery and electro technology up to reclamation and post-mining. The involvement of students in leading roles in the simulated, day-to-day operations implicates not only the practical experience in a multifaceted working environment but encourages the active contribution. Important future fields are IT, digitization and Mining 4.0. Devoid of IT-functions of Mining 4.0, the future production, supply & trading business is incapable of developing new areas worldwide. Nowadays, IT is essential for innovation and increasing efficiency and it will be an important topic in the future. Different rotation in the following divisions is conceivable: infrastructure management, IT security, IT project management, application development up to procurement management. Working together with experienced experts and creative colleagues in practice, discovering and contributing to projects adds value. Emphasis for the students remains scrutinizing the status quo and the hands-on new technologies. Table 2 shows the activities and target groups of the TZB.
Together with the ministry for economics, innovation, digitization and energy of North Rhine-Westfalia, the mining authority, the network mining economics of the Energie.Agentur.NRW as well as the RAG Aktiengesellschaft, the Regionalverband Ruhr and the city of Recklinghausen, a subsequent usage of the training mine as exhibition mine, practice place, education-, training- and testing field for innovation by universities and specialized institutes and as showcase for machinery, equipment and processes of the mining suppliers has been sketched. Hence, the exploitation of knowledge at the TZB will outlast the active (coal) mines over decades.
3 Teaching and research mine Reiche Zeche
The research and teaching mine (FLB) Reiche Zeche (Figure 4) is a central facility of the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. At once, the FLB provides access to several large-scale units for the geothermal usage of mine water as well as access to the Rothschönberger Stollen representing a central element of the flood protection for the Freiberger mining area. The active licensed area of 4.12 km² is developed by the shafts “Alte Elisabeth” and “Reiche Zeche” and provides 19 km of roadways on five levels for research and education. In 2018, 32 underground testing, education and hands-on units have been installed including several BMBF and EU-projects with numerous external partners. 15 universitary institutes and 33 external partners from 26 countries are involved. In more than 140 days, 1,700 shifts in educational purposes form 21 internal and external programs were absolved.
According to § 8 and § 129 of the German Mining Law (BBergG), the FLB is licensed for geothermal production and as testing mine in the framework of an ordinary operation plan. Since 2015, the ore mining is active again due to the installation of a biohydrometallic test rig by the Biohydrometallurgical Centre (BHMZ).
Since 1919, the facilities of the former Himmelfahrt Fundgrube are used for education and research in the university mine. With underground and surface facilities, the technical equipment and historic artefacts, the mine presents a modern research and teaching mine as well as one of the last silver mines in Europe open for visitors. Hence, the TU Bergakademie Freiberg is the only university in Germany and Europe with a licensed production and research mine operated for research and education.
3.1 Course-related hands-on activities
Especially in the practical education and course-related activities, emphasis is on learning in a real environment. For mining engineering students, the goal is not only the achievement of abilities to conduct certain actions, which they also learn during their placement at other mines but also to record and interpret the actions with engineering methods, to learn practical methods, to gain figures, and classification dimensions to evaluate and optimise. Internships at the FLB are also possible.
At the hands-on location “heading”, e. g., the students have to conduct the actions as determine the division, mark the blasting scheme, drill with jack hammers with jacklegs, charge the boreholes and conduct further steps until the scaling (Figure 5). Furthermore, they have to record the blasting result and undertake actions to find approaches for optimization. Same procedures are applied in support installation and control, e. g., with bolt tension tests. For preparation, wrap-up and technical lectures, four lecture halls are installed underground with modern media technology which are connected with the university network as the underground labs.
Further possibilities for hands-on activities in the mining education are the haulage in roadways and shafts, the ventilation, duct tests, health and safety, gas measurements (CO2, Radon), mine water analysis and dimensioning of ore veins. Futhermore, the student mine rescue brigade is trained underground (Figure 6).
A variety of other institutes is using the possibilities underground. The institute for mine surveying and geodesy, e. g., installed several measuring drifts in the whole mine and offers with modern technologies hands-on learning, e. g., shaft plumping which is also used by international partners. But also, course-related actitivies for geotechnicans, geophysicist, mineralogists, geologists and microbiologists are conducted frequently. A part of the mine system is available as computer-animated 3D-model and used for the preparation and simulations (Figure 7).
3.2 Professional development and vocational training
Besides the academic training, the opportunities are used in professional development and vocational training with regional partners. In 2017, a training workshop for ventilation engineers took place. The German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the Raw Materials and Chemical Industry (BG RCI) and the Wismut GmbH conducted a training workshop for directors operations for mine and mining museums. Additionally, the professional development for emergency physician was undertaken.
The FLB is also used as training location for the vocational school Julius Weisbach as well as for the practical vocational training for miners, technologists, surveyors and geo-technicians. Based on the blended training of mines in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, the trainees work at different mines to get a broad education.
3.3 Development to central integrated underground education and research location
With its large-scale active research facilities in underground and opportunities for education in underground, the FLB has a constant regional, national and international importance. In the project “EURockLab”, a concept has been developed in the last years and is continuously updated with a long-term goal to integrate the FLB in research road-maps, to integrate it in research activities, and to install and join education and research networks. The Interests and necessities of primary raw materials and non-raw materials related research need to be considered and underground labs should be created. Figure 8 shows the global structure for the international integration.
To develop the potential in the best way and for long-term usage, it is necessary to take organisational, structural and infrastructural measures to evolve continuously the FLB from the current status to a superregional research location and provide possibilities for interested partners.
4 Teaching and research mine Rammelsberg
In more than 1,000 years of production until 1988, the ore mine Rammelsberg in Goslar extracted more than 30 mt of silver, copper and lead ores. As the first German industrial facility, it became an UNESCO world heritage in 1992 two years after the opening of the museum. The long research and education cooperation with Clausthal University of Technology (TU Clausthal) was agreed by contract in 2010. Since 2013, the Rammelsberg mine is the research and teaching mine of the university. The partnership connecting a mine rich in tradition with innovative research and education is shaped by underground research projects, conferences and teaching and learning activities at the mine site. The variety of possible uses exceeds the framework of this paper. Hence, typical examples for the learning environment are presented (5).
The Rammelsberg mine offers plenty of rooms, which can be used in a variety of different settings. Besides the surface facilities with seminar rooms which can be used for safety instructions and group work, mostly all open areas underground are available. Instable conditions and the flooding underneath the “Rathstiefsten Stollen” restrict the area. The underground learning spaces can be equipped with presentation and working media. Additionally, the underground facilities can be used. Learning groups with a size of maximum 50 persons are possible, but the activities need to be designed for the size and character of the group. Active measures work best with group sizes from five to 15 persons.
For different activities, the Scherperstollen shown in figure 9 can be used. The main advantage of learning underground is the vicinity to the mining environment. Therefore, effects and measures can be shown and experienced directly. Due to the insufficient mobile network, which is a common underground circumstance, students can work more concentrated and learn also that an equipment planning is always critical.
Especially for introductions and basics, many elements in the underground room are useful. An example is the machinery in the underground exhibition, where the conventional cycle for road development in ore mining is presented. By walking through the exhibition area, each step can be explained by using the machinery example. Furthermore, they can be implemented in several tasks, e. g., the calculation of fresh air demand.
The design, conduct and evaluation of a ventilation survey is an important and major task of mining engineers working in the field of ventilation. Using different complexities of ventilation networks and tools for analysis, the task can be adapted for different times and with different previous knowledge used as a teaching and learning activity. By the selection of the settings different levels of complexity can be realized. Figure 10 shows the comparison of two situations. The left one can be used for the introduction on a basic level. The elements are clear and the drift has no curve. The right situation is more challenging. Besides the duct different types of support and intersection of drifts must be considered. Students develop by understanding the simple setting according to the Experiential Learning Approach a procedure for measuring which can be tested and refined by application in more complex situations. Herewith, the understanding for the underground area is trained and processes are developed to describe the environment and relevant factors are identified. During the work on technical tasks, the students enlarge their methodical skills in organization, project management and documentation and develop self-competence and social skills through the group work.
The results from the course evaluations and accompanying research show that the students appreciate the connection of theoretical knowledge and hands-on experiences. Especially, students without underground experiences see a big benefit through the familiarization with underground conditions with direct connections to the learning contents (6, 7).
The teaching and research mine of TU Clausthal offers a variety of rooms for mining education, where experiences can be shaped inducing a learning process. By proper design and support, it is possible to strengthen all skills through the activities.
Based on the three examples, the TZB Recklinghausen, the research and teaching mine Reiche Zeche and the research and teaching mine Rammelsberg, the possibility of experiental learning in authentic environments in Germany is shown which is used for different learning situations. The approaches in teaching and learning activities are similar but differ based on the adaption to environment, target group, and learning objectives making them successful and unique. By further connected development and common support, the learning spaces need to be developed in future to keep and to set the underground, reality-based education as a strength of German education.
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