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Guest Blog – Monash University: Using AR to improve learning outcomes in Wind Engineering

Guest Post by Ying Fai Fung (Owen), a final-year engineering student at Monash University, Australia. Owen completed his Final Year Project using Ansys CFD & PTC Vuforia AR software during 2020 – with the aim of using CFD simulation results conveyed in Augmented Reality to help improve the learning outcomes of Wind Engineering classes.

With the help of CFD simulation and Augmented Reality, we have successfully developed a new pedagogy for helping students to learn bluff body aerodynamics! As a complement to existing online lectures and lab experiments, students can now immerse themselves in Wind Engineering using nothing more than a smartphone or tablet (plus an internet connection)!

Our motivation started with the observation that non-professionals, especially students, can often have difficulty understanding computational fluid dynamics (CFD) solutions and their underlying concepts. The challenge emerges from the separation of numerical results from the physical environment, posing a hindrance to establish an interconnection between them. Additionally, previous studies highlight students’ deficits in grasping the concepts of fluid dynamics ascribed to the shortcomings of traditional teaching approaches, which fail to provide a solid and easy-to-follow approach to analysing flow behaviour. I am Owen and in this blog I am going to explain how I coupled the capabilities of augmented reality (AR) and CFD to present bluff body aerodynamics in an interactive and interesting manner for educational purposes.

What is AR? In simple terms, AR refers to the overlaying of digital contents onto the real world. The augmentation can happen in the forms of text, images, 3D models and videos, which the users can interact with. Think of those times you were busy catching Pokemons on Pokemon Go, or picking funny filters to send to your friends on Snapchat, they are both established applications of AR in entertainments.

So, why AR? AR can offer various interesting features including context-related 3D models, instant feedback and interactivity to foster learning among students. In particular, 3D virtual objects help to better conceive abstract notions, leading to better understanding and reduce misconception of complex & spatially varying phenomena.  During 2020, a challenging year which saw many educational campuses & laboratories closed or off-limits to students due to the risk of COVID-19, AR also launched into the mainstream as it enabled educators to provide access to immersive educational content for students who were at home or in remote locations. In future years post-COVID, I see that ongoing use of AR may also be used to provide additional flexibility to educators who face challenges with scheduling access to labs and other in-demand physical spaces.

OUTCOMES

The CFD-based AR experience was tailored to meet the desired learning outcomes of MEC4459 Wind Engineering unit offered by Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering (MAE) in Monash University. It was tasked to illustrate the wind environment around Monash Woodside Building, allowing the students to understand the differences in flow behaviour with varied wind directions. The level of details was maintained at an acceptable level such that key flow features including flow separation and recirculation can be depicted. The contents were heavily emphasised on velocity and pressure, as they provide a good indication on the overall flow behaviour of bluff bodies. The most interesting part of the experience is perhaps the INFORMATION module, where an easy-to-follow approach was used to explain how the flow propagates from stagnation to separation and to reattachment.

On the flipside, a pilot study was conducted among a control group to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of AR technology for educational purposes. From the quantitative analysis of the results, several suggestions are drawn. Firstly, students are generally satisfied with the application as the contents are easily comprehended and the controls are intuitive. Secondly, they are very impressed whilst using the technology, resulting in their increased willingness to use it again. Next, the responses also indicated that the students consider the application and its embedded contents a helpful mean to learn related concepts. Hence, it can be concluded that AR has the potential to support and enhance students’ learning ascribed to its interactivity and 3D visualisation features.

VERDICT

My biggest takeaway from this project is learning how to break complex problems into pieces. Do not be afraid to start from something simple, before adding layers of complexity to it. In this case, I have spent quite a fair amount of time wrapping my head around the steps in running CFD simulations, experimenting with a simple rectangular block and dull-looking buttons, before proceeding to the actual building model and fancy user interface. Every little step counts, believe that it is worth the time and efforts!

With the recent developments of AR and its extensive use in the educational sector, I believe the technology will have a widespread impact on how online learning is carried out in the near future. While some educators are reluctant to incorporate AR into teaching due to the gap between the conventional teaching methods in classrooms and the exploratory nature of learning engendered by AR systems, this project shows how AR can easily be deployed in teaching complex spatial or visual concepts. I see that the AR experience has the potential to become a “virtual lab”, where students are guided systematically throughout their experimentation in an interactive manner. Moreover, it can also serve as an effective engagement mechanism to help promote the course or university.

If you are interested to see more of the AR experience, you can access it by downloading Vuforia View on your mobile device and scanning the QR code attached below. Have fun exploring!

[ QR Code Pending ]

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