3D printing is increasingly being used in manufacturing and engineering design processes. To be able to design and 3D print a feasible product it is essential to learn how to 3D model. Using 3D modeling software, students can build and iterate on their 3D designs. While these technologies make just-in-time manufacturing of designs and components feasible, they also raise new cognitive challenges: students need to develop visualization and evaluation skills to assess the feasibility of their 3D models during iterative design processes. 3D modeling software alone does not help in developing these skills. Towards this end, this research reports on the use of Augmented Reality (AR) to support middle school students’ to improve their visualization and evaluation of 3D models in engineering design processes.
We report on a 3-week long after-school engineering experiences program built around Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones). Participating youth are middle school students from low income families (n = 12). These youth are tasked with understanding the capabilities of the UAV and augmenting it in order to address a societal need: delivering supplies via drone to a remote village impacted by a natural disaster. The UAV curriculum is developed around a realistic storyline in which students consider the needs of a small town to monitor conditions of a nearby volcano. Throughout the lessons, conditions change resulting in students needing to plan and implement survey and rescue activities using the UAVs. Embedded in this curriculum are several design challenges that students must address in order to use their drones effectively to support the town’s isolated residents. Here, we focus on a specific design challenge where students augment their drone with custom-built “skyhooks” for supply delivery. They start by sketching skyhooks in 2D and end with choosing a 3D model of the skyhooks to complete the challenge of delivering supplies to the disaster area. In the intermediate design steps, the students use an AR application to help them visualize the transition from 2D models to 3D models with the drone augmented to the scene.
Our research examines how using 3D modeling with AR can enhance youth design cognition. We hypothesize that students will be able to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of their 3D models with the help of the AR application, and they will make better and more informed design decisions that result in successful delivery of supplies to the disaster area. We collect both product and process data in the form of artifacts generated during design iterations, pre and post activity mental rotation tests, screen-recordings of the AR application, surveys, and interviews. Mental rotation tests will be used to determine the degree to which using these technologies enhance youths’ spatial reasoning. Surveys and interviews ask youth to reflect on their use of engineering design processes to solve problems. Additionally, interview and survey data will provide insight into student reasoning about design features and how their evaluation of their evolving artifacts influence design iterations.
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