While I wouldn't want to go back to the typewriter--my writing and thinking speed has increased by several times writing with a computer--I think Alex's point about mechanical pencils is well taken. For one thing, drawing and writing are very different hand-eye-brain coordination processes.
OTOH, I know that being able to rapidly assimilate and compare a lot of data, as is possible with a computer, may spur thinking to new heights, or maybe breadths. I wonder how much, if any, research has been done about the effects of computer use on creativity.
I think Maplesoft has given a new dimension to Wordsworth's " child is the father of man" . This will definitely make the new generation of technologists have a feel of the world outside academia and the demands of industry.
I think both Ann and Dave make sound points. Arbitrarily eschewing calculators or mathematical software (and now apps) just because they're considered a short cut is short sided. It's got to be the engineer's choice, but what isn't a choice is learning the basic principles and understanding how to apply them to the task at hand regardless of which approach you take.
This reminds me of toughing it out in statistics class way back in the day when calculators were first allowed in college math classes. They were extremely expensive, high-end TI devices and I opted to do without.
I didn't do any better in that class than my calculator-equipped colleagues, but I did come out of it with the ability to do long division in my head (as well as the other basic operations). Today, I prefer the calculator for those tasks, but I can do it myself, on paper or in my head, if need be. I think that's the whole point here: having the choice, and being master of the tool so you understand how it works, and of the task, so you understand how it fits into the whole problem, aka your design.
@Beth: I think the comparison to a calculator is apt. I tutor high school students for the ACT. They are often surprised at first by my ability to solve problems without a calculator. (A calculator is allowed, but all of the problems are designed to be solvable without a calculator). However, they quickly see the benefit of being able to think through a problem without a calculator - even if you ultimately use a calculator to arrive at the answer. No matter what tools you have at your disposal, it's your brain that actually solves problems.
Ideally, students should come out of school knowing both how to use tools and how to think. For a long time, it was thought that students still needed to learn manual drafting techniques before they could be taught CAD; it was thought that CAD would "spoil" them. Thankfully, this attitude seems to have faded away.
I don't think that access to mobile Maplesoft apps will "spoil" anyone, as long as they understand that they are a tool, and not a substitute for thought.
Interestingly, I talked to a couple of engineers about this the other day and most were likening these tools to a calculator. There are some, they said, that will maintain that a calculator is a cheat sheet. But how many engineers today rely on calculators without that reliance completing obviating the need to understand core math prinicples.
Clearly, it's essential for the engineering students to master the basics first, then take advantage of any tools that will make their life easier. As some folks I talked to suggested, some of that onus needs to be on the professors and engineering curriculum to establish knowledge of the basics before serving up the tool.
I would worry about the same thing. Over-dependence on a tool can practically cripple students and future engineers. On the other hand, if the tool helps stimulate creativity, I think that's its greatest value.
I agree, Rob. Saw that same 60 Minutes episode. With the right interpretation, mobile design tools can really open up possibilities and give aspiring engineers a good head start. It's the interpretation that's so important and forgive me for repeating myself, but the solutions need to be enablers for better, more creative and productive thinking, not for taking short cuts or missing out on the fundamentals.
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