Design Studio’s SLATE Research Group and MSU’s College of Engineering are collaborating to study how augmented reality tools can help beginning engineering students master spatial reasoning problems. First year engineering students in EGR 291, which is focused on teaching students spatial skills, have recently agreed to participate in a study where they learn these skills using an augmented reality app that can be downloaded on student’s smartphone or tablet. The app was conceived and developed by Dr. John Bell and graduate student members of both the Design Studio and the SLATE Research Group.
Spatial skills are considered essential for learning and performing engineering. EGR 291 is a class offered to first year engineering students who can benefit more from spatial training, as determined by a spatial assessment given to all incoming engineering students. The class was created to help these students catch up on skills that professors deem necessary for success in the engineering school. This 1 semester course teaches students traditional spatial reasoning using tasks such as mental rotation, which has students mentally rotate objects to solve problems. In addition, students are trained in paper folding, working with models, and piecing together different complex shapes.
The app (designed by Design Studio’s John Bell with input from the SLATE Research Group’s Collaboratively Embodied Content (SLATE-CEC) team) features a series of mental rotation tasks using augmented reality. Students then download the app to their mobile devices (phones, tablets, iPads, etc.) and use the app to perform mental rotation tasks similar to the problems found in their textbooks.
So what is augmented reality? Augmented reality is when you are viewing the real world through a lens on a phone, tablet, or other computer device and the device overlays another image or information on top of the real world (see GIF below). The overlay image is interactive in the case of this app, where students manipulate the image to solve mental rotation tasks. What the students see is a 3D geometric figure that they can walk around to see different perspectives of the object, then they are meant to look at the object at the correct angle.
It is quite possible that augmented reality will open up many new possibilities in engineering education, particularly for those students struggling with early engineering concepts like spatial reasoning. Collaboration between the Design Studio and Dr. Tim Hinds in the school of engineering could open up the possibility of a new and exciting approach to helping students develop their spatial skills. Likewise, the SLATE-CEC group will conduct research studies to understand if and how augmented reality tools can help all students succeed in their engineering courses.