Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Mechanical Engineering


Human Computer Interaction

First Advisor

Judy M. Vance


In order to solve the engineering challenges of today, multidisciplinary collaboration is essential. Unfortunately there are many obstacles to communication between disciplines, such as incongruent vocabularies and mismatched knowledge bases, which can make collaboration difficult. The silos separating disciplines, created through focused educational curriculum, are also a large barrier. During their education, designers and engineers are encouraged to employ specific methods unique to their discipline to share ideas with their peers. In many cases, however, these methods do not translate between disciplines, making it challenging for two groups to exchange ideas and perspectives effectively. There are, however, some tools that have emerged to help bridge the gap between designers and engineers.

Currently, the most pervasive solution to these challenges is Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) software. This software is used by both engineers and designers, allowing both groups to design and evaluate models in a common medium. This makes it decidedly easier for these two groups to collaborate with each other. However, CAD has its own limitations. Navigating in a three-dimensional environment with two dimensional input devices is unnatural and imposes an additional physical and cognitive load on the user. Desktop screens also limit decision-making capabilities due to their small size and the potential to create distorted impressions of size and scale of models larger than the computer screen.

Large-Scale Immersive Computing Environments (LSICEs) improve upon the benefits of CAD software. They provide users with the ability to not only visualize their designs three dimensionally, but also allow for natural interactions with 3D models and the ability to view a design as the designer had intended, in true scale. This can improve the ability of users to collaborate in a number of different ways. The natural interaction interface allows students to focus on sharing ideas with their collaborators. Additionally, the common medium makes it much easier for the two groups to communicate with each other, eliminating one of the main obstacles to interdisciplinary collaboration in education.

This research seeks to gain a better understanding of how design and engineering design students use LSICEs to collaborate with peers, both within and outside of their discipline. Two studies were conducted. In the first study, two different classes of students used a LSICE as a tool during their design process. The first class was a design class that utilized the LSICE as a part of three design projects throughout the semester. The second class was a sophomore engineering design class. These students also used the LSICE as a part of their design process, however these students used the virtual environment over the course of a single semester-long design project. Students were given a short survey at the end of their experiences in the virtual environment. From this study, some interesting results emerged. Both groups of students indicated that the virtual environment was a benefit to their design process, regardless of background or time spent in the space. Statistical analysis of the students' responses revealed no significant differences between the two groups of students.

The final study brought engineering and design students together to complete a design review task within the LSICE. This study was conducted in order to evaluate the role that LSICEs play in facilitating collaboration between engineers and designers. Upon conclusion of the design review, students were given a survey to gather information of their perceptions of the virtual environment in visualizing designs, communicating with their peers and interacting with designs. From this study it became quite clear that students find LSICEs to be effective in facilitating communication between disciplines. Additionally, the majority of students commented on the positive effect that the natural interaction interface had on their ability to evaluate the design.

Throughout each of these studies, common themes emerged between both groups. Student responses show many perceived benefits to LSICEs which have the potential to inspire student-driven interdisciplinary collaboration. Participants found that the environment improved their ability to communicate, whether it be with peers within their disciplines or when working in interdisciplinary groups. Students also found that interacting in the environment in a natural way improved their ability to make judgments about spatial relationships among components.

The results from this research are quite promising. Providing students with collaboration tools that support natural human interaction with CAD models of real size has the potential for greatly improving a student's educational experience. Manipulating full size CAD models encourages students to visualize the size and shape of the final design before it is built. Seeing the designs in full scale allows everyone on the team to experience the design and provide their input into the design discussions. This research continues an effort in academia to leverage cutting edge technology to improve student learning by providing unique opportunities to interact with peers in design teams, promoting graduates who are well equipped to work effectively across disciplines to address the challenges of today.


Copyright Owner

Meisha Nicole Rosenberg



File Format


File Size

76 pages