Student preferences on tactile versus digital learning: implications for conceptual design

DS 76: Proceedings of E&PDE 2013, the 15th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, Dublin, Ireland, 05-06.09.2013

Year: 2013
Editor: John Lawlor, Ger Reilly, Robert Simpson, Michael Ring, Ahmed Kovacevic, Mark McGrath, William Ion, David Tormey, Erik Bohemia, Chris McMahon, Brian Parkinson
Author: Kremer, Gul; Tucker, Conrad; Jackson, Kathy
Series: E&PDE
Institution: Penn State, United States of America
Section: Learning
Page(s): 735-739
ISBN: 978-1-904670-42-1


Given the potential diversity of our engineering students in terms of their preparation to complete engineering design tasks, we sought to understand the implications of digital versus physical preferences in manipulating objects while completing computer aided design (CAD) tasks. We speculated that today’s students who are more technology savvy would be better in virtual/digital environments (i.e., comprehension and virtual manipulation); on the other, we thought that although helpful virtual/digital experiences would not be as concrete as literally working with products, and thus the need for this additional level of concrete comprehension would be salient. Using a subject pool of 54 students, we have completed timed, in-class experiments to study our hypotheses. Results indicate that indeed some engineering students have strong preferences/comfort with virtually handling products, and for those students, timed design exercise where the interaction with the designed product was through only digital means, the performance was higher. On the other hand, student responses to questions relevant to physical manipulation of the product highly correlated with their perceptions relevant to manipulating products virtually; thus, we speculate that this points to the learning from “tinkering” in general, where students do not distinguish between the means -- virtual or physical. Further (qualitative) research is needed to substantiate this however. The results of this study have implications for how solid modelling courses can be designed to be more inclusive in nature to account for learning preferences.

Keywords: Tactile learning, virtual learning, performance comparison


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