Visualization enhancements to facilitate the use of digital demonstrators for instructional applications
Authors: Steven Kangisser, Abhishek Shankar, Javier Irizarry, Harnish Sharma
Abstract: This paper investigates a novel approach to instruction in the use of complex instruments. A laser scanner is employed as a test bed for lessons which can then be more broadly implemented. Laser scanners use optical signals from reflected light. These signals are then processed to create a 3D point cloud of the scanned object or environment. The point clouds can be used to derive accurate information about the mapped area's dimensions. Laser Scanners are widely used in aerospace, manufacturing, law enforcement, agriculture, and construction industries to capture details and create models of existing structures and objects. Many universities teach students the theory and process of laser scanning. Laser scanners are typical instruments for which instruction on their application requires students to apply theoretical knowledge through hands-on exposure to technology. Limited access to instructional scanning instruments presents a challenge when class sizes are large, or courses are offered remotely. In these cases, access to the equipment required can impede the accomplishment of the stated course objective. As a means of negating the limited access to a physical instrument, a digital demonstrator was developed. This digital prototype can augment or replace a physical artifact, such as a laser scanner. To accomplish this task, the researchers examined the current method of scanner instruction at undergraduate and master's degree levels. A simulated scanner was then developed and tested in actual courses at three universities' graduate and undergraduate level courses. Student performance was measured using a mixed methods approach. Testing confirmed that a digital representation of a complex instrument could be an effective teaching tool, even to the extent of replacing a physical artifact. Having established the utility of a digital demonstrator, the researchers incorporated additional visualization capabilities into the digital scanner interface. These interface enhancements are not found on the physical scanner and are intended to facilitate student understanding of scanner theory rather than instrument operation alone. Such visualization enhancements had to be offered in a way in which the absence of the added visualization component would not be critical to the student's ability to operate an actual physical scanner. User testing confirmed that visualization additions to the interface facilitated an understanding of the theory behind the instrument's application and that students could later operate a physical scanner without these enhancements. The authors conclude by offering a set of principles for visualization enhancements to a digital interface that others may apply when designing demonstrators for instructional use.
Keywords: digital demonstrators, laser scanning, interface visualization, digital prototypes
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