Paying attention isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Our “collective attention” seems to be getting shorter, a result of technology’s acceleration of content consumption, according to research published in Nature Communications

Researchers led by Sune Lehmann, a professor of applied mathematics and computer science at the Technical University of Denmark, scoured through troves of data from social media platforms, movie box office sales, and other internet sites, and found that popular topics cycled out quicker as years progressed. For example, according to the study, hashtags on Twitter stayed in the Top 50 for 11.9 hours in 2016, down from the 17.5 hours on average in 2013.

What could this mean? The study concluded that with increased content production and consumption, attention spans are being pushed to the limit. In other words, distraction is high and attention is harder to keep.

For teachers, it means competing with Instagram feeds, TikTok stories, and viral trends, and finding new ways to keep students interested and engaged. 

Onshape, a cloud-native CAD platform, can help educators cultivate an interest in engineering and other STEM subjects in and outside of the classroom, a topic explored in the June 2021 webinar, “Taking STEM Projects Beyond the Classroom.”  

Hosted by Brien McCormick, Onshape Education Tech Services Team Lead, and Domenico DiMare, an Onshape Education Community Engagement Specialist, the webinar shares ideas on how to encourage students to pursue their interests in engineering and develop overall STEM skills using cloud-native CAD.

Here are the main takeaways from their presentation:

1. Hook students with their own personal interests 

Teachers should allow students to go in a different direction from typical engineering projects. A student with an interest in music could build their dream guitar. A group of students might have a shared idea for a laptop stand. These ideas can become team projects or be entered in a friendly competition for “best build.” 

“Help them pick a direction,” McCormick said. “Nudge them in an area that they're excited in, something they're interested in and will be engaged.”

Music-minded? Love sports? Anything can become an Onshape design project.

2. Inspire students with real-world engineering examples

“One thing that always inspires me when I'm getting started with a new project is looking at what's been out there and looking at what other people are doing and really figuring out what can I do,” DiMare said.

A few companies that can inspire awe in any beginner CAD user include: 

A 3D printer can also bring a student’s design from concept to reality. 

“Seeing that final product — there's no replacement for that,” McCormick said. “If they're already interested in engineering, that is the connection point — seeing the physical object.

3. Focus on different STEM skills to build

A cloud-based CAD system enhances opportunities for students to develop skills that will help them succeed in many STEM fields, including how to implement a top-down design strategy, write code, and build products collaboratively as a team.

Onshape’s FeatureScript open-source programming language, for example, may especially appeal to students who are interested in coding and want to develop their own custom CAD features to improve their design process.

With Onshape’s unique collaboration features, students are able to work together to problem-solve in real time using link sharing and in-workspace comments. The communication process is streamlined, a significant improvement over team members emailing files or screenshots back and forth.

4. Assign relatable real-world projects

There’s nothing more uninspiring than a boring project that seemingly has no real-world impact.

Assigning projects that are flexible and allow students to use their creativity will help keep their attention. Some suggestions: 

  • Redesign Your Bedroom: Allow students to model something that is real and familiar.

  • Customize Sports Equipment: Students can create their dream skateboard, bike, rollerblades, etc. The options are endless! A tutorial can be found below.

5. Take advantage of online STEM resources

If you’ve run out of ideas, don’t worry — there’s a plethora of resources for teachers online. 

“There's all sorts of different Onshape tutorials out there that you can have students look for, and they can find something that fits what they're interested in,” DiMare said.

Here are some popular tutorials and examples: 

Grabbing the attention of your students can be half the battle. But with Onshape, and a bit of encouragement, sparking and cultivating interest in STEM subjects is made easier. As the only cloud-based CAD platform that runs on any modern browser, Onshape lets students dive deeper into their interests, collaborate more easily, and develop valuable skills.

Is that enough to keep a student's attention? Over 1 million Onshape Education users think so!

To learn more about how teachers and students are benefiting from the universal CAD access (runs on Mac, PCs and Chromebooks, iOS and Android) and real-time collaboration tools of Onshape, watch the full webinar or find out more about Onshape for Education.