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Exploring the Impact of Virtual and Physical Dissection Activities on Students’ Understanding of Engineering Design Principles

[+] Author Affiliations
Ann F. McKenna, Wei Chen

Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Timothy W. Simpson

Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

Paper No. DETC2008-49783, pp. 359-368; 10 pages
  • ASME 2008 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 5: 13th Design for Manufacturability and the Lifecycle Conference; 5th Symposium on International Design and Design Education; 10th International Conference on Advanced Vehicle and Tire Technologies
  • Brooklyn, New York, USA, August 3–6, 2008
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division and Computers in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4329-1 | eISBN: 0-7918-3831-5
  • Copyright © 2008 by ASME


Product dissection has become a popular pedagogy for actively engaging engineering students in the classroom through practical hands-on experiences. Despite its numerous advantages, dissection of physical products has many drawbacks, including not only the costs required to start-up and maintain such activities but also the workspace and storage space needed for the products and tools used to dissect them. This paper presents results from on-going research that is investigating the extent to which dissection of virtual representations of products — what we refer to as virtual dissection — can be used in lieu of physical product dissection in the classroom. In particular, we found positive learning gains in students’ ability to identify and describe the function and production method of components contained in a hand-held power drill, for both physical and virtual dissection groups. However, the data also reveal differences in the overall maximum level attained as well as differences in the range and types of components identified between the groups. While we recognize that virtual dissection will never provide the same hands-on experiences as physical dissection, we contend that virtual dissection can be used effectively in the classroom to increase students’ understanding of engineering design principles. By substantiating this impact, we can help establish cost-effective sets of computer-based dissection activities that do not require extensive workspace and storage spaces and can be easily scaled to any size classroom.

Copyright © 2008 by ASME



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