Name of the participant and other supporting staff if relevant Robbie O’Connor
Name of the module and discipline, level and  year of study and any useful background info

B.Eng in Biomedical Design (level 7). 3rd year (final year) module on ‘group project based-learning’.

This was the second iteration of this module as it’s a relatively new programme. The first iteration was significantly disrupted by the start of the COVID pandemic.

Name of community partner and/or any other supporting partners (public or private sector)

3D Assist (who 3-d print prosthetic arms for children) which is a charity based on the campus, which Robbie manages.  Also Child Vision, an external community partner.

Students were also mentored by Project Management (PM) Group professionals, some of whom were graduates from TU Dublin. PM Group also contribute funding to 3D Assist on an ongoing basis.

CERL project title(s) Community engaged design for 3-D printing [there is no formal title for this project currently, this is just a description]
What they changed about their programme/course in relation to CERL

Students worked on 4 different projects:

–        A prosthetic hand for a child to enable bike riding

–        A multi-purpose prosthetic hand for a child who wanted to do technical subjects in school

–        Assistive devices for older people to use on a remote control to restrict access to all but essential buttons, e.g. for someone who might have had a stroke

–        Designing moulds for soap making by younger adults with visual impairment who work in a supported environment in Child Vision.

Each student group had 2 mentors from PM.

Robbie hadn’t incorporated reflection into assessment before but now feels it was the most significant aspect of the reflection, he was blown away by the response of a few students in particular, and not those students he was expecting this from. They will be using reflection as part of the assignment in the future.

Tangible info – e.g. module descriptor, learning outcomes, assignments, assessment criteria, …

4 groups of 4 students were involved – 16 in total.

The module was assessed as follows:

–        Reports: group report outlining each members contribution

–        Final presentation to class group and mentors

–        Reflective essay

How was it taught:

·        number of students

·        student groupwork or individual,

·        how they worked with the partner,

·        how the project proceeded,

·        any reflection done with students,

·        evaluation or formal assessment of their learning,

·        Could or should we follow up with students?

·        tech used

·        Anything else interesting?

Robbie had a few meetings with the mentors before they met the students to clarify their role – to guide the students and respond to queries but not to provide technical expertise. 3 of the mentors were graduates so they understood the level and process required.

Robbie set up an MOU with PM Group for the mentoring process.

Robbie already had relationships with all the community partners as he manages 3-D Assist as well as being a lecturer in TU Dublin.

What did your students learn or how will they benefit?

The level of engagement from the students was greatly increased once they were given the details of the person/brief they were designing for, they felt huge responsibility towards them (in fact Robbie had to emphasise that this wasn’t the only prosthetic they would ever receive, as 3D Assist were working with them on an ongoing basis). The mentors were also very engaged.

Reflective essays from students showed that they found the mentoring particularly positive. They were initially quite intimidated by the mentoring – whether they should email them, how should they address them, etc. They learned about how to interact with the ‘public’ – emailing protocols, formality, etc.

Reflection also showed students moving far beyond purely technical learning. They were addressing the fact that they were working with someone in the community who was going to actually use the output, and learning how to interact with mentors etc.

What do you think the benefit was to the partner? Do they have any feedback from the partner?

Community partners got new strategies and perspectives on their work as a result of the collaboration.

The prototypes were developed and work is continuing to improve and refine them, with the community partners (see images below – all images courtesy of Robbie O’Connor).

The community partners, for example the parents of the children, were amazingly focused on the students’ learning and how to help them. There was a lovely dynamic between the community partners, mentors and students in the collaboration. It’s win-win for everyone.

How could/will you improve your CERL teaching practice next time?

Plan but be flexible to allow for unexpected challenges (e.g. COVID). Document progress and learning and reflect as you go along. And don’t wait until the end of the semester to collate all the outputs as students won’t be available once the module finishes. 

Re reflection – Robbie gave the students guides on reflection, but feels he should have asked specifically about the community engagement element, how they found the real-life learning. In this year’s reflections a lot of the students focused on the mentoring, as this was the most intimidating part for them – they were even asking Robbie what they should wear to the online meetings. The students didn’t meet the children directly. 

With a level 8 programme (honours degree) final year project the students do meet the child directly, so Robbie would like to ask those students to reflect on this engagement. 

It was a 1-semester module and the first few weeks went on preparing the students for the engagement, next year Robbie would condense this so they get the full benefit of the 12 weeks of engagement.

Any challenges and how you overcame them


One or two mentors mentioned that students seemed to feel under more pressure than the lecturers appreciated, possibly also related to COVID. But there was constant communication so they were able to address this. 

One or two of the mentors were helping the students to develop designs that were too complex for the timeframe and level of the module, so Robbie worked with them to pull it back to more achievable designs. 

You have to allow for unexpected things to happen, delays, roadblocks, and work around these.

Advice you would give to someone starting a CERL project with students?


Just start, just do a CERL project. The project can grow legs then, and once it’s established you will develop other streams for the work, which makes it easier, as it’s less onerous to find ideas for new projects etc.

 Particularly in relation to technical projects, be very upfront with the community partner about the technical side, and what you hope they’ll actually get in the end. It’s not about a transactional relationship – you giving something finished and brilliant from a university to a person outside it – this is really a collaborative process, and they’ll be getting a first prototype, which can only be developed fully when their feedback is received, because their input is just as important as that of the professors and the engineers etc. 

It will take longer than you first expect. Communication is extremely important, with mentors and with community partners. It’s really important to explain the timeframes, semesters etc. People are far more tolerant than you’d expect, as long as they’re all fully informed about what’s happening and what to expect. Even children are fine with waiting several weeks to see a first iteration – communication is the key element to everything. They have never had a complaint about how long things take to deliver.

Any good quotes we could use in the IO1 report

Any of the above! In particular ‘communication is the key element’ in these collaborative projects. 

Did anything notable come up that about their LC, Triad, ILC, LTTA  or module experiences?

The issue of transactional versus transformational engagement became a focus in the discussions of the quad, and really resonated with Robbie.

Anything else notable about the practice that there wasn’t space for elsewhere 

Robbie feels every university should have a charity on campus, it’s a great model and can be an accessible way in for other charities to make contact with the university.
Anything else they want moving forward with their CERL practice? Robbie already has lots of project ideas from community members lined up for his students next year. If anything he’s looking for more lecturers to engage with 3D Assist!