SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations is developing a computer-aided design (CAD) system that is capable of automatically generating formative feedback to guide students through complex engineering design based on analyzing design artifacts computationally. The project will study the validity and reliability of this intelligent system in supporting the learning and teaching of engineering design.

We will conduct design-based research on SmartCAD, a computer-aided design system that supports secondary science and engineering students with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment. These engines will allow SmartCAD to analyze student design artifacts on a scientific basis and provide automatic formative feedback in numbers, graphs, and visualizations to guide student design processes on an ongoing basis.

The research hypothesis is that appropriate applications of SmartCAD in the classroom will result in three learning outcomes:

  1. Science knowledge gains as indicated by a deeper understanding of the involved science concepts and their integration at the completion of a design project
  2. Design competency gains as indicated by the increase of iterations, informed design decisions, and systems thinking over time
  3. Design performance improvements as indicated by a greater chance to succeed in designing a product that meets all the specifications within a given period of time.

While measuring these learning outcomes, this project will also probe two research questions: What types of feedback from simulations to students are effective in helping them attain the outcomes? and Under what conditions do these types of feedback help students attain the outcomes? To test the research hypothesis and answer the research questions, this project will develop three curriculum modules based on the Learning by Design (LBD) Framework to support three selected design challenges: Solar Farms, Green Homes, and Quake-Proof Bridges. This integration of SmartCAD and LBD will situate the research in the LBD context and shed light on how SmartCAD can be used to enhance established pedagogical models such as LBD. Research instruments include knowledge integration assessments, learning analytics, embedded assessments, classroom observations, participant interviews, and student questionnaires. This research will be carried out in Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia simultaneously, involving more than 2,000 secondary students at a number of socioeconomically diverse schools. Professional development workshops will be provided to familiarize teachers with SmartCAD materials and implementation strategies prior to the field tests.

Principal Investigators

Charles Xie
Saeid Nourian
Jennie Chiu
Alejandra Magana

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1503196. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The incorporation of engineering into the Next Generation Science Standards mandates that precollege engineering activities designed for science courses must support an appropriate integration of engineering design and science learning. One way to inspire students to learn and apply science in a design process is to continuously provide formative feedback to illuminate how science concepts play out in their own designs. This project will investigate how this kind of formative feedback can be automatically composed from the results of computational analysis of student design artifacts supported in SmartCAD and used to guide student design in a scientific direction.

Modern CAD software that computerize a significant part of engineering design have the potential to support K-12 engineering education at a level and scale comparable to modeling and simulation in science education. The proposed research will provide timely results that could motivate the development of an entire genre of CAD-based learning environments and materials to accelerate and scale up K-12 engineering education. To educational researchers, the envisioned SmartCAD will provide a versatile open-source platform for exploring new possibilities and testing new theories. To schools, SmartCAD will provide a zero-cost alternative to expensive commercial software or hardware.

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