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Modern Mining Engineering Education Transforming Towards the Digital Era

During the last decades, a transformation in various fields influencing education can be observed: Learning habits change, e. g., due to substantial changes in the channels and media used to acquire information. Teaching alternatives become broader and digital and follow these changes. Graduated profiles need to address 21st century skills for the work beyond the 4th industrial revolution.

The transformation and its effects need to be implemented as well in a modern mining engineering education overcoming the deriving challenges and benefitting from the opportunities. Hence, the question that needs to be raised is how to design and implement functional curricula and courses for future-proof mining engineers.

The paper shares answers developed at Clausthal University of Technology (CUT), Clausthal-Zellerfeld/Germany, by using four examples: the curriculum development presenting the updated Master program on Mining Engineering and keynotes on the course design to balance times and target skills. Finally, two teaching-learning-activities will be introduced to show how digitalization and communication are addressed in courses.

Authors: Angela Binder, M. Sc., Dipl.-Ing. Alexander Hutwalker, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Oliver Langefeld, Institut für Bergbau, Technische Universität (TU) Clausthal, Clausthal-Zellerfeld/Germany

Mining Engineering, quo Vadis? Trends of digital transformation

The industrial revolutions essentially changed the way mining is undertaken. Mechanization, Electrification, Electronic and IT-Systems, and cyber-physical systems are the keywords to the different revolutions and world-class mines operate the Mining 4.0. Nevertheless, the innovations of even the first revolution are not implemented in all mines showing the disparity between small and artisanal mines and state-of-the-art. The innovations supported by the 4th industrial revolution are described widely and find their way in the Mining Engineering education.

Besides the technology, the two other major factors influencing the education systems are the society and the economy (1). Both of them change as well with digitalization leading to a need for change in education. Just like as internationalization does not equal teaching in English, digitalization does not equal using computers, but addressing the skills for working in a digital world. The following section emphases on three effect areas of education: the learners and their habits, the teachers and their toolbox as well as the graduate profiles. In general, those are not specific for mining engineering but need to be considered in the education design as they provide opportunities and challenges for education.

Learning habits

Efficient education considers the nature of the target group as well as its diversity. The majority of the learner in today’s higher education shift from generation Y to generation Z who grew up with major access to digital media. For those Digital Natives, more media was accessible in their whole learning career than for every post generation resulting in their preferences for learning styles. A comparison of the characteristics is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Comparison of homo sapiens and “homo zappiens” according to (1). // Tabelle 1. Vergleich von homo sapiens und „homo zappiens“ nach (1).

The character of the learners leads to a demand for modern media and alternatives in teaching. Due to the unfamiliarity of text-based communication with uncollaborative methods, traditional formats have a lower efficiency. The level of adjustment of both sides needs to be discussed. Nevertheless, the style of education should support the wanted graduate profile, which will be discussed below.

Teaching alternatives

The traditional university teaching set-up of frontal presentation arises from a time when books were not widely available and were lectured to the audience. It developed further by using the support of chalkboards, slide-presentations, overhead transparencies or PowerPoint-slides or other frontal-based media, which is an example for digitalization. Nowadays, digital media far beyond PowerPoint slides are available and increase constantly in their number. Experiences for the students can be created by using virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (MR) (2). Currently, the technologies are ready. Challenges are the creation of content and access to the technology for creation and distribution. Besides experiential tools, learning platforms offer a variety of digital interactions between students and teachers.

While students are mostly open to the new media, teachers hesitate with implementation. This derives from various levels, as there are the didactical integration, the handling and delivery to students often making them uncomfortable with the media and leading to the perception of digital superiority of students. Hence, it needs investment in developing concepts but also the skills to come up with effective formats. The integration connected with the topics and outcomes is key. This should follow the way from intended learning outcomes over teaching and learning to used media rather than arranging a lecture around a new medium. Using a medium just because it is there can be a major pitfall.

Graduate profiles

Besides the discussed two main acting groups in education, the goal of education is defined by the graduate profiles. Those should be aligned with their future workplaces. The future is not easy to be forecasted. However, today’s graduates are still likely to work in the year 2060 beyond today’s trends. The OECD states concerning their Learning Framework 2030 that knowledge, skills as well as attitudes and values should build competencies and defined the three key competencies as:

  • creating new value;
  • reconciling tensions and dilemmas; and
  • taking responsibility (3).

Detached from the technical areas, those can be seen as universal. The world economic forum defines the 21st century skills in more detail shown in Figure 1 and distinguishes them into the three categories of foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities. Those can be aligned with the key competencies already mentioned.

Fig. 1. 21st century skills by (4). // Bild 1. Fähigkeiten für das 21. Jahrhundert nach (4).

Additionally, it can be assumed that the share of mines using cyber-physical systems is increasing. Hence, the graduates will work with those technologies and develop them further. Graduates should be entrepreneurs who can act responsibly in their environment and T-Shaped with a broad knowledge of the sector and deep knowledge in their field. This means that education needs to focus on skills and attitudes as well as that the graduates know the ways to the solution but not only the solution.

Digital mining engineering education

Effective mining engineering education must aim to educate students in a way that they are best prepared for their working life. Key is the focus on the triangle of topic, skill and personality development in education. A balanced curriculum made up of well-designed courses and teaching-learning-activities is the base. The design of the activities should consider the habits of the students and teachers for collaborative education.

The next section shows the design and implementation at Clausthal University of Technology (CUT), Clausthal-Zellerfeld/Germany, following the elaborated principles, opportunities and challenges.

Implementation in Mining Engineering education

To transform mining engineering education sustainably towards the digital era, actions on different levels need to be undertaken. A central component is the curriculum of study programs. On the one hand, they can be split into courses and again in teaching-learning-activities and their assessment following the specific learning outcomes. On the other hand, the programs are located in a framework of the respective universities and their legal framework as well as in accreditation agencies and their stakeholders such as organizations like Society of Mining Professors (SOMP) representing the international academia or Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME). Often, both parties are interconnected. The framework should be supportive and foster innovation in the development of the programs. Infrastructure and flexibility are needed for a successful transformation.

Hence, the implementation has three levels of activities: curriculum design, course design and the teaching-learning-activities (TLA) as well as the assessment. Digitization is an interwoven process that cannot be described as bottom-up or top-down. Finally, the different elements must work together to serve the goal of an excellent education of the future workforce. Based on the three levels, the approach of CUT towards digitalization is shown.

Curricula Design: Refreshing the Master Mining -Engineering

At CUT, mining engineering is taught in the Bachelor program “Energie und Rohstoffe” (Energy and raw materials) and in the consecutive Master program “Mining Engineering” which can be followed up by an individual Doctoral program. The language of instruction in the Bachelor program is German while the Master program is taught in English language since 2014. Consequently, the target group was widened leading to an average share of 85 % international students coming from 25 countries in total.

Besides continuous improvement in the single courses, the reaccreditation process was used to improve the program towards digitalization. The main thoughts can be aligned with the key aspects of the T-Shaped Mining Engineers that are:

  1. Innovation;
  2. Entrepreneurship;
  3. Sustainable Culture;
  4. Width & Depth;
  5. Digital Competencies;
  6. Practice.

Within this framework, some points can be seen as core values of German engineering education and may seem obvious for insiders. Nevertheless, it is important to address them separately to make the system transparent and ease the access for those who are not familiar with the system. Furthermore, awareness of core values is an important base for the successful design. The following sections show how the named key aspects are included in the curriculum design of the renewed Mining Engineering program, which is currently in the process of reaccreditation and will be rolled out with winter term 2020/21.

on a) Innovation and b) Entrepreneurship

Innovation and Entrepreneurship are closely related to each other. In the mining engineering program, they are considered by two main thoughts: representing the state-of-the-art and future technologies and approaches in collaboration with industry and research as well as to raise the innovation potential of students the skills and attitude they gain during their studies. University education follows the research and includes innovative approaches and solutions. Furthermore, seven visiting lecturers from industry are included in various courses as electives and in tutorials. Discussion with industry representatives and their feedback on the qualification of students continuously secure that the needs are met.

The innovation potential and entrepreneurship is mainly stimulated in the course design. Concept development over final solutions is presented to show the way products have evolved. The critical thinking and independence of students set the entrepreneurial base while measures including trust and feedback enable them to develop personal skills and values.

on c) Sustainable Culture

Engineering programs need to consider more aspects besides technology and technical circumstances to foster a sustainable culture. Hence, the program at CUT addresses all pillars of sustainable mine practices equally. Therefore, an interwoven approach is chosen which is addressing the topics in the different courses and not as a separate course on “Sustainability in Mining Engineering”. This concept connects directly the technological impacts on safety, resource efficiency, environment, community, and economy and forms a broader picture. Hence, the students are more likely to have a holistic view of their work and aim at the sustainable culture at their workplaces.

on d) Width and Depth

The Master program is settled on the Bachelor programs in which the students acquire the basic engineering skills. During the Master’s, this base will be widened and deepened. The curriculum of the Master Mining Engineering comprises 27 % of courses addressing the wider topics, which are either more general or not located in the core area of mining engineering. Those are supplemented by 33 % of courses concentrating in-depth on different topics. The student chooses the topic of 40 % of the credits so they can specialize in their area of interest. Figure 2 shows the distribution over the semester. The modules addressing mainly wide topics are marked in blue while deepening modules are marked in red. Green fields stand for modules with self-chosen specialization.

Fig. 2. Modules of the Mining Engineering program with legend on the right.// Bild 2. Module des Master Mining Engineering mit Legende an der rechten Seite.

on e) Digital competencies

The consideration of digital competencies is realized by a combination of two approaches: The existing digital competencies the students gained during their Bachelor studies are deepened with a module on the Internet of Things (IoT) and Digitalization in the Circular Economy. The course focusses on system design and control engineering in the field of mining, processing, and resource-related areas while using IoT and open cyber-physical systems as examples. Furthermore, eight other courses address indirectly digitalization with mainly the usage of different relevant software. Hence, 30 % of the courses have an above-average digital focus. Those are shown with shading in Figure 2.

on f) Practice

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Confucius

Not only the quote by Confucius but also various studies show that the effect of learning is the highest when learners are directly involved and practice what they should learn. The area of practice is important in the program, especially for the development of skills and competencies. Active courses with methods apart of the traditional frontal based lectures address besides technical and methodological skills, but also the ability of students to manage groups and work collaboratively. They also practice conflict management and communication in a secure space. Giving and receiving feedback trains them for future work espacially diverse teams. Different hands-on courses and eight tutorials foster this development. Besides these activities, two other pillars of practice can be identified: project work and internship. Almost 40 % of the modules include project work. In different setups, students work problem-based and practice to manage themselves, the project and others. In the industrial internship covering 5 % of the credit points, the industrial practice and view broaden the skill set of the students. Student research projects and thesis can be done in the industry. Hence, the students choose if they want to focus more on research-based questions or industrial driven topics during their final year.

Course design: Balancing out

While the curriculum is setting the target course of the program, the course designs itself defines the skills to be achieved in the different modules. In general, the shift from teaching to learning is the state-of-the-art when it comes to course design. Hence, education is orientated towards student centration and not on the activities of the educator. The core of the design is the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO). The Teaching and Learning Activities (TLA) directly lead to those outcomes, with the attainment being checked in the assessment. Aligning those based on constructivism can be summarized by Constructive Alignment as introduced by (5). For the outcomes, it is essential to define the taxonomy level in which the student should act after successfully finishing a module. In general, the main objectives in master programs should be in the upper levels according to the classification of (6).

Concerning the reported transformation, the main question that need to be answered is: “What are the outcomes in term of digitalization and how can those be achieved?” By using the examples of software, they are mainly considered in the outcomes as a tool to solve problems, but also the selection amongst available tools is necessary. Outcomes with a high level need more than just remember clicking routines but more applying them on unknown problems. Hence, the courses need to address different areas and levels.

The second question is about the general arrangement of activities. The total workload is split up in the contact hours formerly known as lectures and self-study time. Both parts need to be balanced out effectively. New media are changing what needs to be done or not during a lecture. Learning videos or tutorials, which fit the habits of the target group, allow the students to get information just-in-time. Hence, the actual contact time can be decluttered. An effect balance can be achieved by arranging the lectures as a kind of quality time of students and teachers when they can interact. During the self-study time, the students can individually familiarize with contents and develop themselves. This also helps the different learning types to be more effective and fosters the self-responsibility of students. Definitive shares cannot quantify the effective balance. It must be arranged for every course and its intended outcomes. Therefore, a good design of TLA is important. The following section is showing examples for best-practice in two different areas directly affected by the digital transformation.

Teaching and learning activities

The design of teaching and learning follows a holistic approach putting the students’ learning in the center. The knowledge about the group is a key aspect for effective design. Hence, the group should be generally analyzed and diversity needs to be considered. Especially, previous knowledge but also the educational background and related learning habits can lead to pitfalls. A high effort is needed if the students visiting one course study in different programs and foreknowledge as well as the overall goal is differing within the group. For this situation, target group-specific activities help to achieve the ILOs for all participants.

The activities itself consist of different elements. During the self-study, the learner is working with provided material or tasks while during contact hours educators and learners are interacting with each other. Such an active design is contrary to the classical teaching approach and has one major advantage: in the traditional style, the results of the learning and the grasped concepts are random and the success of teaching is not assessed until the final exam because the delivery of the message is not checked. This promotes misconceptions, which are sometimes also not identified when examinations are designed in certain ways. When knowledge is acquired randomly, two questions should be raised: Whom did we loose on the way? Do the students know what we want to teach and do we assess this?

In contrast, modern teaching as it is practiced in the mining engineering education at CUT aims to assess the competencies and skills over the knowledge. Formative assessment is used during the process to direct the process of learning in addition to the summative assessment. Mainly this is realized by activating methods during the contact hours when the student connects learned concepts with new ones. The content is developed in collaboration with educators and learners. When students are presenting on different topics, fellow students and educators can identify misconceptions. In this process, self-competencies and soft skills are supported as well.

Going digital: Software learning

The education on software is a key component in modern engineering education. The variety of software is large and for different tasks and areas, a range of software is available. Hence, a selection needs to be done first. In this area, the support of either the provider or the institution is crucial to fund the needed licenses. In addition, the main outcomes need to be defined. In this case, the outcomes are in the areas of the software framework and solving a problem with the software.

Software training is also a component of many life-long-learning modules. However, there are main differences between this situation and higher education, which need to be considered and lead to the point that approaches of software training should not be copied to train students: Professionals come from a specific situation and know their specific problems, which should be solved with the software. The software itself is already purchased and an investment done by sending them in training. They will focus on the training in their field of work or their career-relevant areas and directly use the gained skills in their daily work. Students, on the other hand, have a huger variety of options and know a limited reality. Cases in a university are often simplified to show the concepts and explain specific relations. They may get in a working situation, where they are the experts on software because no software is purchased yet and they need to support the decision-making. Their studies are way broader than a normal job and they do not have daily projects in which they will use the software.

A common concept of teaching software is clicking through given tasks. An instructor is showing the steps and the learners click it on their own. Smaller tasks can be included in the topic to apply the gained knowledge. This approach leads to an average speed, which is probable to slow for some who get bored and too fast for others who are left behind unsatisfied and stressed. If someone wants to repeat one step, there is no option for an easy replay. The instructor needs to repeat what he/she said and/or did. Doing this course on a yearly base, the same clicks need to be repeated every year. Because the instructor is occupied with clicking parts while teaching, the time for questions and discussion (quality time) is less.

One concept developed at CUT is using a workshop style contact time, a project, learning videos, and consultation as main elements. During the first lecture, the framework of software and its usage is elaborated setting a base for the project and sensitizing students for misconceptions. This raises also the awareness of the requirements, which are not addressed in traditional courses. The advantages of a workshop style have already been discussed. During the project work, students get support from various media, such as learning videos, handbooks, and slides. They solve the task by searching and playing as they are used to do. By curiosity, they develop more skills and find out more about the software. Due to the individual learning in the project, everyone can work in his/her speed and repeat steps as often as needed by e. g. replaying videos. During the project, they also gain project experience and the need to communicate their results in written and oral form. If problems occur that cannot be solved with the provided material, tutors are available for help. A project portfolio with different tasks as well as a written examination in which conceptual questions on software usages are integrated within an overall course framework realize the assessment of the course. Generally, the students are satisfied with the format and a good achievement of learning objectives can be observed. The concept mutually develops technical and generic competencies.

Developing efficient communication: How to polish the diamonds?

While teaching software is the obvious part of digitalization, effective communication with the right selection of tools is affected more indirectly by the transformation. Modern communication channels as social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook provide access to many target groups and can be used to gain a “social license to operate“. Here, for a professional and effective useage a communication strategy increases the potential success. Therefore, mining engineers need to be trained in effective communication beyond the technical talk. Learning communication without practice is hard so interaction is needed. Every student brings certain communication abilities that need to be refined. This is one aim of the course “Responsible Mining” in the Mining Engineering program.

As an interdisciplinary course, the concept of the course concept addresses professional, technical and social skills as well as system expertise. Six topics along the lifecycle of a mine are addressed in five half-day workshops. Skills and topics are interwoven. Besides the workshops, the students work on a project in which they choose a critical mining topic related to the lecture and prepare a communication strategy for the wider society. During the class, communication concepts are introduced and trained. By splitting the assessment in a report and an oral examination, different skills are addressed. In the oral examination, the students present the relevance of their topic in the first seven minutes independently while the part is a discussion connected to the topics and their project.

The first implementation phase has shown good results in student development. The individual choice on a topic within a given framework and the own selection of a target group and strategy has increased the intrinsic motivation of students. Especially the awareness of their responsibility as a mining engineer has been raised, which goes along very well with the goals of the OECD. In the future, stakeholder-specific communication strategies will be integrated in other modules of the program.


The article shows that the approach of the mining engineering education at CUT is shifting towards the digital era. Digitalization is a process and not a goal. Hence, continuous improvement is needed to keep education up-to-date. This needs continuous internal evaluation and monitoring of the industry and research. Therefore, the cooperation with students and graduates as well as with industry and research needs to be kept on a high level. Education remains a research activity that needs cooperation on all levels.

Furthermore, freedom and trust for these innovations to foster the continuous improvement on all levels are needed. At this point, the authors acknowledge the support of CUT, providing excellent conditions for modern and innovative education.



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Authors: Angela Binder, M. Sc., Dipl.-Ing. Alexander Hutwalker, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Oliver Langefeld, Institut für Bergbau, Technische Universität (TU) Clausthal, Clausthal-Zellerfeld/Germany