Before MIT instructor Andy MacInnis has his design students spend their first moments in CAD, he wants them to take a more low-tech approach to modeling products – making them out of cardboard, newspaper, foam core and duct tape.
“If you jump right into CAD, you might spend two or three days building a beautiful model, but it might not work in the real world. If you’re in the prototype stage, you need to stay out of CAD and do things with your hands. In that same two or three days, you can make 15 or 20 iterations on quick and dirty models to find a solution that works,” he says. “When you build something in your hands, it connects your brain to what you’re doing in a much more engaged way than if you went straight to the computer.”
MacInnis teaches the introductory product development course for the Integrated Design and Management (IDM) Master’s Program, a combined degree from the MIT School of Engineering and the MIT Sloan School of Management. Roughly one-third of the 25 graduate students come from either business, engineering or design backgrounds – and all have at least three years work experience in one of those fields.
“Regardless of their varying levels of skill or expertise, we teach our students to design with empathy. We have a workshop for learning machine skills, for example, which maybe a business student won’t actually do in the real world, but when it’s time for them to hire somebody or talk to somebody about getting their product built, they will have more of an understanding because they have already built something themselves,” MacInnis says.
“We’re not going to convert a business person into an engineer necessarily, but we want them to learn each other’s language. We also teach them to design with empathy when dealing with customers, vendors or other partners they may work with during the entire product development cycle,” he adds.
First Exposure to CAD
The first product that IDM students build from scratch is a USB-powered LED desk lamp embedded with an Arduino Nano chip. The lamp can be programmed to adjust brightness or flash light in different patterns and colors. Their first project in CAD was to design a hollow cylindrical cup that holds the nano board.
“I want students to understand that you don’t need to be an expert to use CAD,” MacInnis says. “There’s no reason to be scared of CAD. Even if you’re on the business side, and you’ve only used the tool for a handful of hours, you now will have enough experience to understand what the expert designer or engineer expects from you.”
“By the end of the workshop where we’re designing that lamp part and printing it on our MakerBot, everyone has done it with their own hands,” he adds. “Some people need more help than others, but everyone realizes that ‘Hey, this isn’t the incredibly difficult thing that I thought it was.’”
Benefits of Onshape in the Classroom
As an educator, MacInnis says he was impressed by the immediacy and accessibility of cloud-based Onshape, which can have students up and running in minutes on any computer without any IT overhead.
“The fact that you don’t need to buy a high-performance computer just to run CAD is a huge benefit, but it’s a factor that my students don’t even think about. About 90% of my students have Macs. SOLIDWORKS doesn’t run on a Mac. They don’t have to download anything. And I also just do the party trick and show them how I can design on my phone,” he says.
“Onshape is also hugely collaborative where I can invite any of my students to come in and work with me on a particular part, and it’s really easy to teach,” MacInnis adds. “If I don’t know how to do something I want to cover in class, I’ll learn. Onshape has a lot of great online tutorials and videos and I tell the students whenever I’ve had to teach myself a skill. I’ll say, ‘Three weeks ago, I didn’t know how to do this. Nobody is born knowing this stuff, but Onshape makes it easy to learn.’”
The online Onshape Learning Center offers self-paced courses, live virtual training by Onshape instructors, and dozens of videos and recorded webinars about new CAD features and best design practices. Onshape’s free Education Plan also offers a 12-week college curriculum for educators including lesson plans, homework assignments and student assessments.
“I explain to students that Onshape is very collaborative like Google Docs, where all of us can be looking at the same project at the same time. But because they’re all digital natives, they all just expect that,” MacInnis notes. “It’s sort of like, ‘Well, duh, of course it does. Of course, it’s collaborative. Why wouldn’t it be collaborative?’”
“Because Onshape is the first exposure to CAD for many of our students, they take this for granted,” he adds.
To learn more about the Integrated Design & Management program, watch the video below: