The teacher in the classroom can never be replaced. Still, talk and chalk rule the classroom. But how does a teacher get across to students concepts that require visualising capabilities?

S.M. Nabi, an academician-cum-technocrat and S. Sathik, former vice-chancellor, University of Madras, have pieced together an innovative teacher aid to enable principles of engineering with practices from daily life come vivid in 3D models in the classroom.

In today's rapidly changing globalisation scenario and technological advancements, radical changes in learning process and approach are the need of the hour, says Mr. Sathik. In engineering, the ability to visualise the engineering objects in space has been found to be important for understanding the concepts, he says.

For example, a cantilever beam is a common subject in civil and mechanical engineering. It is a support fixed at one end and free at the other, like the bracket supporting the over-head lofts at home. In the classroom lecture, it is depicted by drawing, showing the length, fixed point and at best two horizontal lines to show its depth. The professor usually asks the students to assume or guess that there is width. This guess-visualisation ability differs widely across individual students, notes Mr. Nabi. This is particularly due to the complex combinations of the students hailing from a variety of community and background, especially in Tamil Nadu with over a lakh engineering students.

A survey with the lecturers revealed that they spent 30 to 50 per cent of class time in writing on the board. Mr. Nabi and his team have come up with a hand-held device with a projector to create a classroom with 3D visualisation of objects with practical and industry examples with no audio.

The participation of the teacher as the audio provider will go a long way to enhance and enrich the teaching capability of teacher and learning ability and the feel for engineering of the students, Mr. Nabi says.

A classroom with 3D visualisation and real life examples will save the teacher's time of preparation and the time and effort in communicating the concepts. This is basically and primarily a powerful teacher's aid to stimulate the learning interest of the students, he adds.

This is a gen-next approach towards engineering education with an objective to bring in relevant technology to the classroom, says Mr. Sathik.

The two academicians have integrated a 3D medium platform for engineering education by utilising tools like animation, analysis, video clippings, Windows applications, and more so the speedy and easy-to-operate touch screen/wall board display systems. The content, developed by eminent professors and subject experts, has been developed in modular forms that could be suitably assembled or adopted to customise to meet the specific requirement.

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