Sherif El-Tawil, PhD, PE
Professor and Associate Chair
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering | The University of Michigan
Virtual Reality for Education
The ability of educators in the field of structural engineering to relate complex 3D spatial arrangements, such as connection detailing and lateral torsional buckling, has been limited to 2D drawings or physical models. Immersing students in a 3D virtual reality environment offers a promising and engaging means for effectively conveying complex ideas about structural connections and member response. With this purpose in mind, the overall objective of this project was to develop a novel virtual reality (VR) environment to help structural engineering and other engineering and science students gain an appreciation for complex spatial arrangements. The project had three goals: 1) Develop a virtual reality environment for displaying complex spatial arrangements and facilitating navigation through it; 2) Develop models for the steel sculpture and other teaching aids for structural engineering, then deploy the models in the CEE 413 Steel Design class, and 3) Evaluate the impact of the new technology.
The developed VR models were deployed in MiDEN, a CAVE-like environment at the UM 3D Lab (Figure 1). Since MiDEN is an expensive facility with limited availability, we also developed a version of our tools that employs an Occulus Rift, a portable, head mounted VR device (Figure 2). Two years ago, we exposed students in CEE413 to the MiDEN environment and then, last year, we employed the new portable device in CEE413.