Asee peer logo

Using Vrml To Assist Student Visualization In Freshman Engineering Classes

Download Paper |


2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.705.1 - 5.705.4



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Matthew M Whiteacre

author page

James L. Wilson

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3538

Using VRML to Assist Student Visualization in Freshman Engineering Classes Matthew Whiteacre, James Wilson Texas A&M University Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution


As students enter college, their ability levels vary widely from one student to another. For a large segment of these students, visualization of 3D objects is, at best, difficult. This difficulty poses a serious obstacle to the students grasping the concepts on engineering graphics. Both orthographic projections and pictorials, not to mention sections, are difficult to comprehend if one has no true concept of the object to be drawn.

One method to aid these students is to construct physical models of objects, thus allowing the visual learners to see, feel, and touch the models of the objects they are trying to draw. While this is a wonderful aid to learning, it is not feasible to construct models of each and every object which would be used in a freshman level introductory graphics class. This would necessitate about 50 models being created, just to have one copy of each object depicted in the class. If the plans were to have each student (or maybe each group of 4 students) have a copy of the model then the numbers grow rapidly.

As an alternative to this approach, it is possible to create virtual models of the basic objects using computer models and exporting these as VRML files. This allows the students to see the objects and move about them to get the concepts of the actual 3D parts. These models can also be animated to allow the various parts to move with respect to one another, thus allowing the students to get a better mental image of the objects they are to be drawing. This paper will discuss the basic creation techniques used at Texas A&M to make virtual models of the objects used in ENGR 111 and ENGR 112 (Foundations of Engineering 1 and 2) and how they were utilized in the classroom.

Use of Physical Models

To assist the visual learners, physical examples should be used whenever possible. For the engineering graphics this would involve the creation of actual models of the examples used. This would allow the visual learner to actually see the object and the tactile learner to hold and feel it. Using these models will maximize the chance for people with these learning styles to retain and learn the subject matter.

From an academic point of view this is an excellent method to use, there are problems implementing it. These center around the time required to manufacture sufficient models to equip an entire program, the cost of such an undertaking, and the difficult of storing the models. At Texas A&M we have about 2000 freshmen engineering students divided into classes of roughly 100 students each. There are potentially three of these classes (ENGR 111 and 112) running concurrently thereby requiring sufficient models for 300 students. Even if we provide

Whiteacre, M. M., & Wilson, J. L. (2000, June), Using Vrml To Assist Student Visualization In Freshman Engineering Classes Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8822

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2000 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015