[9] Enhancing concept design visualisation through low-fidelity prototyping and Virtual Reality (VR) in teaching engineering design classes



Enhancing concept design visualisation through low-fidelity prototyping and Virtual Reality (VR) in teaching engineering design classes

Author (s)

Peter Dorrington Senior Lecturer
College of Engineering
Will Harrison and Marc Holmes


This research intervention resulted from observations of current teaching practice, made by the presenters, who both lecture in engineering design. They observed that many students opt immediately to explore engineering design concepts using Computer Aided Design (CAD) rather than more exploratory/ creative methods such as pencil sketching or model making. The observed issue with this being that the students then limit themselves to what they can create in CAD, using their current CAD software skill level, rather than stretching concepts to fully explore a full range of geometric freedom to satisfy more fully the engineering design brief. Furthermore, solely working in 2D (i.e. CAD on a computer screen) appears to accentuate a loss-of-spatial and scalar awareness and full visualisation of solutions may be lost, in the experience of the presenters.

This presentation will outline the current teaching practice and how a novel learning intervention built around innovative workshop activities has aimed to increase the impact of teaching of the essential early design conceptualisation and visualisation phases of a year 2 mechanical engineering design module. The interventions consisted of: 1) initial brainstorming and concept exploration using group discussion and idea generation techniques; 2) low-fidelity physical prototyping in the workshop using a range of rapidly shaped materials; 3) Virtual Reality software to explore their initial CAD models (which were developed following activities 1 & 2).

With student teaching groups of 200 in mechanical engineering, this new teaching intervention did place some challenges on how practically to make this happen, considering the balance of increased contact time, needing to fit into an already packed timetable, and with shared demands on physical spaces such as the workshop and its staff and resources. These challenges and how they were overcome will be discussed in this session and may be of benefit to colleagues looking to implement groupwork in large cohorts, as well as those looking to explore new immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality.

This teaching intervention was purposively designed with online surveys ex-ante and post-ante of the intervention workshops; including mini-interviews during activities and a focus group at the end. The early analysis of this data will be presented during the presentation, and will be of value to those seeking to understand how such interventions may be incorporated into their pedagogical arsenal for large group teaching.

The size of the teaching group was one of the major limitations with this teaching and learning intervention, in the sense that students would have benefited from longer activity sessions; however, this is a good starting point to road-test these activities. In addition, gaining full engagement of some students is always a challenge; however, we will discuss ways in which we tried to improve attendance with peer-assessments and clear explanations of expectations, to remove any anxiety students may have faced prior to new activities.

Session Outline

The session will be a 15 min presentation followed by questions. We could also demonstrate the VR equipment after the session if there is space in a separate room.

Key Words

Technology enhanced learning (TEL), VR, Engineering Design

Key Messages

The main outcome of the session will be to give the audience an insight into how physical and virtual model-making can be used to enhance creativity and innovation in engineering design classes. The session will also describe the challenges of running a novel teaching intervention with a large cohort or students.


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