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What’s A Thabblethratchet? – A Communication

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Visualization and Computer Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1306.1 - 8.1306.4



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Paper Authors

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Holly Ault

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

Session 2438

What’s a Thabblethratchet? – A Communication Exercise in an Introductory Design Class

Holly K. Ault, Ph.D.

Mechanical Engineering Department Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester, Massachusetts 01609-2280


Educators and employers recognize communication skills as necessary to successful engineering. Communication is included in the list of ABET 2000 criteria1, but students do not always appreciate the need for graphical as well as written and oral communication skills, nor do they understand how to integrate text and graphics in engineering design reports. We have introduced several exercises into our sophomore level introduction to engineering design course to emphasize the importance of graphical communication skills. One of these exercises involves the use of familiar mechanical construction toys such as LEGOs and K’Nex. This paper discusses the implementation and outcomes from these exercises.


Writing has been introduced into many engineering courses as a means to improve students’ communication skills in response to the newly developed ABET accreditation criteria1 (eg. Sharp et al.2). In the area of mechanical design, effective communication requires not only a facility with words, but also the ability to integrate graphics with text to describe products and processes. Verbal descriptions alone are not sufficient. We are all familiar with the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and this is nowhere more true than in the area of mechanical design. In order to develop the students appreciation for the use of graphics in design communication, the author has developed several exercises to be used in an introductory mechanical design course.

Communications Exercise #1 – Gizmos and Thabblethratchets

In this exercise, the students are given an object constructed using 10-20 parts from a familiar construction toy set such as LEGOs, K’Nex or GeoShapes. A typical object is shown in Figure 1. All of the objects were constructed by the teaching assistants with the criteria that the objects would not be symmetrical, nor would they resemble common objects such as a house. A plastic sandwich bag containing a set of duplicate parts (and perhaps a few extras) was also provided. The students are instructed to “describe the object” such that a classmate can build an exact duplicate from the spare parts. No further instructions are provided. If the instructor is questioned concerning the use of graphics, the response is given for the students to complete the assignment as they interpret the directions. Thus, if, in their opinion, a “description” includes graphics, then Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Ault, H. (2003, June), What’s A Thabblethratchet? – A Communication Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11540

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