New Tool Helps Students Learn 3D Modeling


By Michelle Ward

EECS Associate Professor James Miller always warns students in his Introduction to Computer Graphics course about the difficulty of their first 3D assignment. But students, being students, often ignore this warning. Starting well after office hours, exasperated students go online for help, only to find examples using advanced features that add to their confusion, says Miller, co-director of ITTC's e-Learning Design Lab (eDL).

To prevent blurry eyed, frustrated students from handing in incomplete assignments, Miller developed an easy-to-use, interactive tool, Metaview, that can run on any computer using Java Web Start. Metaview is packaged with a variety of self-test features and built-in 3D models to demonstrate major concepts.

The inspiration for Metaview came after Miller saw Tinker toys being used to show the relationships among the horizontal, vertical, and depth components in 3D models. He thought if the example could be more flexible and be embedded in a powerful interactive framework that it could help students master the skills needed to create 3D models in medicine, architecture, engineering, animation, and other fields. Metaview does this, allowing students to better understand connections between models and programming constructs.

Miller has solicited anonymous student feedback from multiple Introduction to Computer Graphics courses. While the feedback has been positive, it exposed a few bugs that have been corrected and led to usability improvements in Metaview and a related website.

Work continues on Metaview. eDL researchers are developing a version that is compatible with computer tablets and other new smart, portable devices. To better understand the mathematics of lighting models, Miller is building tools that will allow interactive placement of light sources.

The work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

For more information, contact ITTC.

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