When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world in 2020, educators faced an unprecedented challenge – to teach students remotely using available web tools. Across the world, students were issued devices like Chromebooks in order to facilitate virtual classrooms, video conferencing, and online lessons as they began the great remote learning experiment.
At the same time, educators grappled with the loss of school infrastructures as they transitioned to remote teaching. This affected many aspects of learning, but one area hardest hit was STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education due to the more hands-on nature of its content.
In addition to hands-on activities, engineering courses commonly rely on Windows-based computer labs to teach topics like computer-aided design (CAD) to students. With these labs unavailable – and the software not available in the cloud or on Chromebooks – it seemed CAD and engineering education would be impossible for the foreseeable future. Simply put, teachers found themselves without a means to deliver their curriculum.
Enter Onshape – the only CAD system designed exclusively to work in the cloud, which means it can run successfully on Chromebooks – really any device, even smartphones.
There are two education plans available with Onshape – the Education Standard and the Education Enterprise plans. The Standard plan has always been free and will continue to be free to individual students and educators. The Enterprise plan released in August 2020 would normally be a paid plan with administrative tools used by schools to administer large classes. However, recognizing the need, PTC made the decision to offer the Education Enterprise plan free of charge to schools and universities around the world to enable them to continue their STEM education online.
Onshape delivers industry-level CAD software that doesn’t involve the usual IT hurdles. As a SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform, it’s designed to work in the cloud, so students and teachers can access their CAD documents on any device with a web browser.
What’s truly remarkable is how a SaaS-based product development platform levels the playing field for education. Because of the IT requirements of other CAD software, not all school districts could offer engineering within their curriculum. Purchasing and maintaining CPU-intensive, Windows-based computers requires a significant financial and IT investment, which often means that only schools with enough resources could offer CAD instruction.
With Onshape, there’s finally a way for all students to have equal access to a CAD platform and STEM education.
Check out this story about a teacher/librarian in an Oregon middle school who was able to continue her engineering curriculum (and extra-curricular activities such as FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge) thanks to Onshape. The examples of their CAD creations are a testament to how student ingenuity is ignited when combined with other passions. Final projects ranged from a scalloped tiara, a Mandalorian helmet (from the Star Wars universe), and the Eiffel Tower.
In the UK, The Chiltern Academy was able to maintain complete continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic in part thanks to Onshape. The school moved to Onshape due to the flexibility it offers over other educational CAD offerings.
These are just two examples of hundreds of schools that share similar stories. The need for this type of platform has spurred incredible growth: in less than a year, the number of education users increased by nearly 300%, surpassing one million just a few weeks ago.
Getting this type of technology into the hands of students will have lasting effects on education and the engineering profession. With more flexibility in the delivery of engineering programs, more students can be exposed to 3D design, sparking interest across diverse groups. These programs and technology are preparing the engineers of the future.
While vaccination programs are ramping up, it’s still too soon to say what school will look like a year from now, but it is safe to assume it will never be the same.
Students today are immersed in a digital world and most are accustomed to all of their senses being stimulated. It’s been clear during this pandemic that educators need to expand their use of technology to keep digital-native students engaged – and better prepared for the professional world.
For example, virtual collaboration is becoming more commonplace in the modern office, thanks to cloud collaboration tools like Google Docs. But it’s something many kids are familiar with through playing video games. Simultaneous online collaboration is the new paradigm.
Within Onshape, a team of students can work on the same design, at the same time. Like a shared Google Doc, collaboration can happen in real time. Students can watch each other (or a teacher) add to the design, they can contribute to the design themselves, or break off into subgroups to work on different pieces of the model. All changes are synchronized.
Dr. Cox has a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University. Prior to joining PTC he taught for 25 years at Brigham Young University and consulted as a design systems specialist with aerospace companies like Honeywell and United Technologies. His research focused on advanced engineering analysis and design systems automation. He joined PTC in 2010 and currently is the Senior Vice President of the Global Academic Program. His team provides software, curriculum and other educational resources to more than 3,000 universities worldwide. Current interests include CAD/CAE/CAM, Digital Transformation, Neural Networks and Augmented Reality.