Monday, March 10, 2014

Teaching With Tinkercad

Egg – Faith

Autodesk's Tinkercad web application is an almost ideal tool for developing students' understanding of basic modeling principles. Tinkercad models consist of two basic object types -- shapes and holes. A shape adds volume to a model. Holes subtract volume. Both types of objects can be moved, resized, and colored. Shapes and holes can be spatially aligned and combined into a group, as can other groups. The app also supports cut, copy and paste. But that's pretty much the entire feature set -- if you ignore imported shapes, STL exporting, and a server-side JavaScript-based geometry library called ShapeScript.

Tinkercad is a very good environment for teaching basic 3D modeling skills. And yet, the site has been experiencing significant growing pains since the product was purchased by Autodesk in the spring of 2013. The team at Autodesk insists that the Tinkercad internals they inherited were a mess. And yet, under the tutelage of the founders the site was there when you needed it, response times were reasonable, and support was superb. Coming up on a year under their stewardship, I think Autodesk is just beginning to appreciate the importance of 24/7 reliability, sub-second response times and a vocal user community. But better late than never.

Tinkercad is a valuable teaching tool that every 3D instructor should be familiar with. Just make sure to prepare alternative lesson plans because you never know whether the Tinkercad website will be up when class convenes.

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