Undergraduate In-class Participation in Advanced Engineering Research



    To demonstrate how elective classes can be used to involve undergraduate engineering students in advanced engineering research..

    To utilize the structure of an experimental class to impart to undergraduate students a better understanding of advanced engineering research than is possible in a traditional class.

    To encourage enrolled students to consider careers in advanced engineering research.

    To determine the feasibility and potential of using augmented reality as an educational technology technique in engineering education.

    To enable students to participate in the design and construction of a demonstration testbed augmented reality facility.

    To build a full-scale, augmented reality testbed by September 1995, and to use the testbed to complete a working prototype of an augmented reality system by the end of May, 1996.

    To evaluate the class experience, with particular attention to how well goals 2 -- 5 were met.

    To disseminate results of the project, including evaluation, in a report to NSF-Gateway, in a peer-reviewed journal, and at a nationally prominent engineering education conference.

Project Description:

The Undergraduate Participation project aims to show how engineering students can participate in advanced research in a classroom setting. Our advanced research topic is the development of an augmented reality testbed for improving spaceframe construction procedures. (‘Augmented reality’ refers in this context to the use of a head-worn computer interface, featuring a see through display that superposes visual information over a worker's naturally occurring view and a set of headphones.

The augmented reality testbed project is inherently interdisciplinary, requiring the participation of both building science and computer science researchers. In addition to this academic collaboration, the project will feature the participation of Starnet International, a recognized leader in spaceframe design and construction. Starnet will donate a complete set of spaceframe components and show students how spaceframe systems are currently constructed.

Undergraduate students from CS, architecture, and/or civil engineering will participate in the design and construction of a demonstration testbed, augmented reality spaceframe construction system. The completed lab-based system will work as follows:

The testbed system will be designed, constructed, operated, and tested by a small, collaborative group of civil engineering, computer science and architecture students. Undergraduates will participate as research team members for academic credit in an innovative interdisciplinary class. These undergraduates will work directly with the professors who have conceived this research and their graduate research assistants. Building industry manufacturers and construction companies will also work with the students to determine optimum fabrication and erection processes. The final class requirement will be completion of a demonstration testbed augmented reality system for use in constructing a portion of a full scale space-frame. Such a system can subsequently be used for educational project as well as actual on-site construction.

The completed testbed will illustrate how digital technologies can be used to improve quality control and reduce the learning curve of a variety of engineering related processes. By alerting workers immediately when a member has been incorrectly installed, quality control will be streamlined and enhanced. Similarly, the augmented reality system’s continual on-site guidance of workers throughout the construction process will reduce, or possibly eliminate, the need for training. Both of these benefits are easily transferrable beyond the domain of building construction to other disciplines.

The experience of the participants and the products of the class will be evaluated by faculty from Teachers College at Columbia University. The evaluation will culminate in a report describing the class, assessing its efficacy, and analyzing some of the issues raised by this method of teaching.


This project structure and process will expose participating students to a significant number of pedagogical benefits and learning opportunities not normally encountered in their traditional classroom experience. For example, computer science students will write working interrupt-driven, real time computer code for an actual, state of-the-art digital/mechanical system, and civil engineering students will develop a real construction sequence database for an actual small structure. This will require consultation of local construction industry representatives with space frame experience by the students. CS, architecture, and CE students will have to work together to develop various aspects of the testbed -- such as a rule based system for use in guiding workers after mistakes have been made during construction.



Do undergraduate students enrolled in this class get a better understanding of advanced engineering research than they would have otherwise?

Can a research-based class transfer skillsets to students more effectively than traditional classes?

Does the experience encourage enrolled undergraduates to consider careers in advanced engineering research?

Do students and faculty think that undergraduate participation helped in furthering the research?

How successful is the resulting testbed augmented reality facility?

How can the project’s methods of integrating research and teaching be improved, and how can the productivity and quality control enhancements of the testbed be amplified?

How can these innovative methods of teaching through authentic tasks be transferred to disciplines and research projects outside the fields of augmented reality and building construction?

Class Structure and Schedule

The will run for one semester during the fall of 1995 as an independent study for a CS, CE, and/or architecture student. The class will be conducted as a seminar, meeting once a week with a building science researcher. Most weeks a computer science researcher will also be present.


Week Topic / Deliverables

1. Project overview

2. Spaceframe computer model -- 25%

Construction checklist -- 75%

Hardware Calibration -- 25%

3. Component database -- 25%

(For each item, what it is, when and where its installed, special installation instructions, etc)

Computer code -- 25%

4. AR construction sequence interface: storyboard -- 75%

5. Html mockup of AR interface / storyboard

(Sound, graphics, text).

6. - 14. Completed system.

Student Work

User interface mockup designs

Formulation and Dissemination of Evaluation Results

The project will be formally evaluated by Teachers College faculty throughout its implementation. The results of the evaluation will be published in report form and disseminated to Gateway Institutions, Gateway Central administration, and the NSF. The report may be published on the World Wide Web or on CD-Rom instead of as a tradition paperbound document. Pending acceptance of abstracts and papers, we will also present the project in a peer-reviewed journal and at a nationally prominent engineering education conference.