By Elvis R. Sverko
Everyone who knows CAD had to first learn it. Whether you learned it in a typical educational school environment over the entire school year, in an accelerated all-day dedicated classroom, or were self-taught at your own pace, there was a specific order that you learned it. In each case, someone had to teach it, and create the curriculum for you (even if you were self-taught you probably used help menus, videos, tutorials, colleagues, etc.)
A CAD teacher’s knowledge is only finite. What they know is what they can teach. And they might teach it the only way they know how. But when teaching CAD, the students can be a diverse group, from their current knowledge of CAD (or computers in general), to their age, and to their way of learning. So teaching CAD can be very difficult. So how do you teach CAD?
In a paper written by Andreas Asperl at the Vienna University of Technology, this question is answered in the paper “How to teach CAD”. It mainly deals with teaching CAD in schools to students ranging in ages from thirteen to their early twenties, but the concepts are sound, and I feel can be used for someone teaching CAD to anyone, regardless of age.
The paper states that in starting to learn CAD, only a short intro to 2D is necessary, and that you should immediately dive into basic 3D (primitives, Boolean operations, etc.). If you’re trying to improve someone’s spatial ability it might be good, but if you’re teaching someone a specific CAD software (such as Autodesk’s AutoCAD), I would disagree. They should learn the basics of the user interface and many simple drawing techniques first, as those are the stepping stones to the more complex 3D tools. If someone is learning a 3D solid modeling software, than yes, starting right into 3D is the obvious choice.
It’s the spatial ability that should first be acknowledged when looking at 3D. For everyone, 3D spatial understanding actually comes instinctively, as noted in “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam “When we first enter an environment, our eyes make a quick three-dimensional model to establish the space’s orientation and our position within it.” The problem exists in trying to parlay this space to the computer screen.
Other aspects that can be derived from Asperl’s paper are used in many CAD courses, from self-conducted learning (such as the online CAD training found at ProductivityNOW), to what should be included in a training manual (such as having instructions with screenshots for the student to follow step by step, as well as providing realistic objects as examples, so the student is motivated by seeing how they can use CAD in their everyday life.)
One of my favorite parts from Asperl’s paper is the topic of 3D problem solving versus 3D modeling. Teaching someone how to model in any CAD software is only half the battle. Teaching them how to solve problems is quite another. In the Autodesk Inventor courseware by ASCENT, there is a section at the end that discusses, after you’ve learned how all the features and commands are used, how best to use them and in what order. It’s about thinking of solving problems of your model, in particular, capturing the design intent. Because there are many ways to create the same model, but not all of them are the way you intend your design to behave (especially if changes to the model are inevitable).
Even though teaching CAD is the main topic covered here, it is only a small role in the student’s realm of learning CAD. As stated in Asperl’s paper, a good teacher is equivalent to a good coach, they can only lead the student showing them the best tools and methods, but it is up to the student to practice, practice, practice. But one main thing the teacher can bring to motivate any student, is enthusiasm for CAD.
I repeat, the teacher can only teach what they know. And CAD software is constantly updating with new features and workflows. So the student still needs to practice.
“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.” – Rabindranath Tagore