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Developing video and online guides for teaching computer aided design

Dr Tim Baker (Senior Teaching Fellow, UCL Mechanical Engineering) works with first year undergraduates to develop a ‘one stop’ online resource where students can learn vital practical industry skills.

18 May 2015

Presenting at the Teaching and Learning Conference this year, Dr Tim Baker shared his experience of developing video and online guides for teaching computer aided design – with students, for students.

In a crowded graduate market it proves incredibly useful for students to learn software as early as possible. Dr Baker has assisted his students to take an independent route to learning CATIA - a computer aided application and the industry standard for engineering. Being such a vital technical competency within many industries, a head-start proves beneficial for students as it is a practical, complex skill that requires a good deal of training.

“This is not a discipline that can be easily taught in a classroom environment and alternative training materials are not readily available.” Teaching and learning the complexity of CATIA requires time and resources on the part of staff and student alike.

With this in mind, the question was: how do you teach 150 undergraduate students to use this complex software from scratch? The answer came in the form of multiple components. Firstly, acquiring licenses which were available for personal laptop use meant students could learn the software in their own time. In addition, PowerPoint guides from the very start helped in guiding students through the process step-by-step.

Furthermore, Dr Baker refers to the ‘smartphone' approach as a useful way of learning something new and complicated. The idea is that when you get a new phone you often don’t read the manual; instead you teach yourself what you need to at the start and then learn what you need as you go along. Students often used this model to learn new things and CATIA proved no exception.

For staff, the benefit was the reduction in the time required in teaching the new software. The introduction of the new Integrated Engineering Programme meant that 75% of available contact time for teaching CATIA was lost and it proved a challenge to find a way around this.

An online ‘one-stop shop’ has also been developed to assist students and holds a bank of CATIA resources (www.porticast.co.uk). This further allows students to learn practically, in their own time and to get all the information they need.

To create this, seven undergraduates were employed to produce 20 videos (using Camtasia – specialist video creating software) which would teach the essentials of the CATIA. These are now hosted on the website as a kind of ‘digital peer-assisted learning’. All the videos were fully scripted with the audio and visuals done separately – and then added in at editing phase.

The website is by no means complete and continues to be an ongoing project which welcomes contributions and suggestions.

And importantly, student feedback has been positive:

“Porticast has provided me with the fundamentals of operating one of the most commonly used  CAD packages, in such a way that I didn't hesitate to use it as a guide through an assignment that required an in depth knowledge of CATIA. It is essential to all beginners in the world of CATIA and also a support to advanced designers.” George Kokkinos, First Year Undergraduate.

"As a first-time user, I was freaked out by how powerful CATIA could be, as well as the complications with the use of its applications. The step-by-step tutorials on Porticast helped me learn how to use CATIA effectively and therefore eased my worries." Irene Lo, First Year Undergraduate.

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