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Jerimiah Welch
Engineering and Design



Blending Computer Aided Design for Better Learning


ETEC 113, Introduction to Computer Aided Design (CAD), is one of the first courses in an engineering studentís path to becoming an engineer. In most engineering jobs, people create things in groups, and the thing being created is constantly changing. As a result, ETEC 113 needs to give students the vocabulary to understand and discuss 3D parts, as well as the ability to create CAD models that can adapt to design changes and optimizations. Below are our course goals.

ETEC 113 Course Goals

After taking this course, a student will be able to:

  • Read and understand engineering drawings.
  • Create easily revisable 3D CAD models of parts and assemblies.
  • Create machined and injection-molded part models using design for manufacturability (DFM) guidelines.
  • Create part models and assemblies using design for assembly (DFA) guidelines.
  • Create engineering drawings that communicate part or assembly goals (design intent).
  • Use Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing in engineering drawings.
  • Work in a group context to create a multiple-part product assembly and related drawings.

Challenges of Teaching Computer Aided Design

Teaching Computer Aided Design (CAD) is a challenge because you are describing complex topics to a large number of students in an environment where unexpected things happen all the time.

Here are a few of the main challenges we faced in our course:

  • Course Pacing. No matter what pace we choose, some students will be bored and others will be struggling to keep up. If a student runs into an error, they can get left behind.
  • Varying student backgrounds and skill levels. At the beginning of class, some students have already taken a CAD course before, yet others donít know basic tasks such as how to copy files.
  • The hierarchical and detail-oriented nature of CAD. If a student misses a key concept or detail, they usually canít move on until that building block is resolved.
  • 40 students with one instructor and two teaching assistants. With larger numbers of students, the logistics of grading and getting feedback to students becomes a challenge. Every additional minute involved in grading gets multiplied to an additional 40 minutes of instructor or TA time.
  • Unexpected things happen all the time. CAD programs (and computers in general) are notorious for having instability or weird errors, and students can get blocked by the unexpected.
  • Course consistency. Because this course is a foundation course that will be taught by varying faculty, sharing and continuously improving the curriculum is a priority.

Why Blended Learning?

We were initially interested in blended learning because of the opportunity to spend more face-to-face time with the students. By recording video lectures to be watched outside of class, we opened up 45-60 minutes of additional in-class time to interact with students. Focusing on a simplified grading process also created more time to interact with students. All together, we were able to increase our per-student time budget to 12.75 minutes per student. Some side effects we didn't anticipate included increased student accountability and more immediate feedback for both the students and the instructor.

Over the last couple of years exploring different blended learning styles, we ended up with the following manifesto to guide our curriculum choices:

Philosophy of teaching ETEC 113

  • Donít leave anyone behind.
  • Hearts and Minds before Nuts and Bolts.
  • Face time beats lecture time.
  • Doing something beats watching something. (a.k.a. Exploring isn't Boring)
  • Layer your learning. (Use fundamentals when demonstrating advanced concepts.)
  • Feedback loops should be short.
  • Projects should be realistic.
  • Projects should be significant.
  • Information should be easy to find.
  • Use everyoneís time effectively.
  • Build a little more each quarter.
  • Make building things fun!

What is teaching a blended course like as a professor?

Generally I start our in-class sessions with a review of the most important concepts in the out-of-class video demos. Students have already followed along with those demos and created parts or assemblies or drawings that are due at the beginning of class. This is just another touch point to help embed the most important concepts in the out-of-class lectures. Then we review what is coming up.

After that I meet with the student groups and we have conversations about the more advanced work of working together to build a Lego car as a team. The teaching assistants (TAs) also go around and check in with each student individually and we give them in-person feedback on the studentís homework. It turns out that this face-to-face time is pretty motivating. Having to personally tell me or a TA that they didn't do something is embarrassing enough that we have a really high completion rate on the homework.

After that, in-class lab time feels much more like tutoring than lecturing. I spend a disproportionate amount of personal time with students in two groups: Students that are having a difficult time, and students who are excelling and excited to learn more.

The first quarter we did a blended format was a huge challenge, but the second quarter was a little disconcerting. It was very calm. Things were suddenly running a little too smoothly, students weren't asking as many questions. I felt a little uncertain about having all this extra time in class, so I went around and met all of my students. Once I had a personal relationship with so many students, the demand for my time went right back up.

What blended learning strategies do you use in your course?

Here are the tools and strategies that we have implemented and found most useful:

Strategy Tool Objective Challenges
Project Based Learning Individual Bicycle design project.
Group Lego car design project.
Motivate students with big goal.
Show how all the course concepts fit together.
Keeping the project scope small. Covering the full range of content.
Self-Paced Learning Use video Tutorials to allow students to speed through (or rewind) the lecture content. Support students with varying backgrounds and skill-sets. Getting feedback on video lecture effectiveness from students.
Chunking 7 concepts / 15 minutes max per video. Build domain vocabulary quickly so that we can get to higher level concepts. More complex topics are difficult to chunk.
Active Learning Follow each video with a similar challenge to create a similar part, assembly, or drawing. Constantly alternate passive learning (watching, taking notes) with active learning (recalling how to make something). This is a lot of custom homework to create.
Immediate Feedback Students grade their own work with an automatic grading tool as they go along. Motivate students by giving them control over their grade.
Free up instructor and TA time for face-to-face interaction.
Capturing lesson intent in an automatic grading system is difficult.
In-Person, critique style feedback Teacher and TAs review project progress with students during class. Motivate students with human interaction and expectations.
Provide opportunities to "check in" with students.
40 students, 2 TAs, 1 instructor.

How do you give feedback?

As mentioned before, we rely very heavily on in-person feedback as a chance to correct any student (or teacher) misconceptions. It also provides another touch-point to review the concepts. Here is a list of the types of feedback we give:

  • Individual Project Exercises
    • Sketches: in-person feedback
    • Parts: automated grading script, then in-person feedback
    • Assemblies: in-person feedback
    • Drawings: peer-reviewed grading with rubric, verified by instructor
  • Group Project
    • Weekly in-person feedback
    • Quarter-end peer review of team member's contribution is a portion of the grade.
    • We 3D print the LEGO car they design to see if it fits together.
  • Homework Projects
    • In-person feedback
  • Exam
    • Mix of in-person feedback and automated grading

Future Directions

Looking ahead, I am focusing on two things: getting more immediate feedback on how effective the lectures and assignments are, and making course information easier to find.

We have created a video-book website called www.studycad.com that allows students to bookmark and comment on the course video lectures, creating a personalized, searchable table of contents for all the lectures, assignments, and discussions in the course. On the same website, we will add discussion boards below each lecture and assignment so that students can help each other with problems and give the instructors feedback while they are following along with video demos outside of class.

Many of our students will need to reference information from this course later on in their careers. Our goal for the website is that they will be able to come back to the course page and revisit any moment in the course via a quick search. This ability to refresh will be the final touch-point of the course and hopefully serve the students well into their future careers.


Smith, Robin M. (2009). Conquering the Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Online Course

Design. John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.

Stein, Jared. (2014). Essentials For Blended Learning: A standards based guide. Routledge.

Willingham, Daniel T. (2010). Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It MeansÖ JosseyBass.

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