COM³ pilots: How UoL4.0 Challenge builds a digitally-enabled Lincolnshire

19 June 2020 - Published by P. Khodabakhsh
To date, more than 200 students at the University of Lincoln have worked together with 7 SMEs to develop digital solutions to real-world business challenges. These are some of the lessons learned in the process.

The purpose of UoL4.0 Challenge, the COM3 pilot at Lincolnshire, is twofold. On one hand is to support the development of highly engaged, employable and creative-thinking graduates who contribute to the development of society and the economy; on the other, for businesses to connect their new commercial ideas with their potential markets, through the development and use of digital technologies. All of these from a sustainable community perspective.

To build such a pilot we recognised, at an early stage, the importance of securing commitment from a wide range of stakeholders. For instance, we identified the need to include academia, businesses and government, what has been previously identified as the Triple Helix for Innovation (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff (1995), as well as engage with society and the environment (Carayannis &  Campbell, 2010).

Triple helix model of the COM³ UoL 4.0 Challenge

As a result, we developed the UoL4.0 Challenge, an adaptation to the challenge-based learning approach. Challenge-based learning (CBL) is a cutting-edge educational approach that integrates traditional learning modules (theory and practice) and real-life challenges that require solutions. Learning modules are specifically designed to provide the necessary theoretical and practical knowledge to solve the challenges.

Industry 4.0 in the focus in early 2020

Between January to May 2020, we implemented UoL4.0 Challenge within an undergrad module on Operations Management, with a focus on industry 4.0 technologies to support SMEs in their exploration of what digital technologies can do to support their businesses' performance.

More than 200 students organised in 35 teams worked with 7 SMEs to present digital solutions to real-world business challenges. Students presented their findings in a series of posters, which constituted a digital exposition, of what was explored, how was it solved, the benefits and limitations to their solutions, and a reflection about their first-hand experiences.

Benefits for students, SMEs and the University

Results suggest that the UoL4.0 Challenge and the CBL approach increase students’ understanding of operations management in real-life settings, and help the students’ development of 21st century skills. It also demonstrates the interest of SMEs in exploring use of digital technologies to improve their performance, and build their resilience, through more digitally-based sustainable practices.

Another contribution from this step of the COM3 pilot project at Lincoln is the conceptualization, implementation and evaluation of a CBL approach for teaching undergraduate complex modules. In particular, students found that participating in UoL4.0 Challenge helped them to understand how theoretical tools and concepts can be implemented in real-life settings.  It enabled them to explore the potential of industry 4.0 technologies in devising operational solutions. Furthermore, UoL4.0 Challenge was reported by students as conducive for their development of 21st century skills, such as adaptability, collaboration, problem solving, communication, creativity and innovation.

Finally, students experienced what it may mean to work in the “new normal”. Circumstances associated with COVID-19, such as social distancing, demanded the closure of physical educational facilities. Students and SMEs were very agile to move into a new digital workspace, where they continue to experience the advantages and limitations of working online.

Watch the UoL 4.0 Challenge Award ceremony

The next UoL4.0 Challenge event is expected to take place in October 2020 to January 2021.