Civil Engineering Education in a Visualization Environment: Experiences with VizClass
Grimes, Douglas, Warschauer, Mark, Hutchinson, Tara, Kuester, Falko, Journal of Engineering Education
VizClass, a university classroom visualization environment, was developed to bridge the gap between high-tech engineering practice and low-tech engineering pedagogy. It contains a suite of digital whiteboards, a three-dimensional stereoscopic display, and specialized software for engineering visualization. Through observations, interviews, surveys, and examination of student work, we investigated student and teacher attitudes toward VizClass and its effect on teaching and learning processes. Observed benefits of teaching in the new environment include increased ability of faculty to visually explain complex problems, increased ability of students to conceptualize engineering problems, and increased engagement of students in after-class collaboration.
Keywords: assessment, visualization environment, VizClass
A recent article in the Journal of Engineering Education begins, "There is no question of the need and importance of integrating computer-assisted learning and simulation technology into undergraduate engineering courses and laboratories...." .
Most such projects, including the twelve cited in that article, focus on software to teach specific topics. Few projects attempt to create a new type of classroom environment by integrating a suite of hardware and software tools for visualization. Two exceptions are eClass at Georgia Institute of Technology [2, 3] and ActiveClass at the University of California in San Diego [4, 5]. eClass captures the instructor's slides and annotations during class for later replay on the Web to relieve students from detailed note-taking in class. ActiveClass allows students in large classes to communicate with instructors and their aids via hand-held wireless computers.
Other research on visual office environments could be applied to classroom environments. Foremost among these are the Interactive Workspaces Project at Stanford [iWork and iRoom, e.g., 6] and earlier work at Xerox PARC [e.g., the Tivoli system of 7].
The above citation from Stern et al. supports the observation that there is a common belief among engineering instructors that visualization tools enhance students' understanding of engineering principles and their application to problems [8, 9]. However, existing research provides little evidence to support this belief. Prior studies of the effectiveness of visualization software in computer science education have yielded mixed results [reviewed in 10]. In their meta-study of 21 visualization experiments in computer science, Hundhausen and his colleagues conclude that student engagement was more important than the type of visualization in contributing to learning.
Our study addresses two gaps just mentioned: the need for visualization environments for engineering instruction, and the need for research on how visualization tools affect engineering instruction. VizClass, an NSF-funded project at the University of California, Irvine, is a classroom visualization environment for civil engineering and computer graphics education. Display devices in the main VizClass classroom (VizClass I) include three 2D digital white boards (SmartBoards(TM)) and a semi-immersive stereoscopic 3D wall display (Figure 1) [described in 11]. Additional hardware components include an eight-node PC cluster, a touch screen display for controlling the PCs, and a surround sound system for data sonification. A second classroom (VizClass II) contains a single digital whiteboard driven by a stand-alone PC and two conventional whiteboards (non-digital). Although large 2D displays are common, VizClass is unique in its multiple interconnected 2D and 3D displays, as well as its software, which includes civil engineering visualization software and middleware to manage an eight-node PC cluster in VizClass I.
Civil engineering is a particularly appropriate subject area because professional use of visualization tools is far …
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Publication information: Article title: Civil Engineering Education in a Visualization Environment: Experiences with VizClass. Contributors: Grimes, Douglas - Author, Warschauer, Mark - Author, Hutchinson, Tara - Author, Kuester, Falko - Author. Journal title: Journal of Engineering Education. Volume: 95. Issue: 3 Publication date: July 2006. Page number: 249+. © AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR ENGINEERING EDUCATION Oct 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.