Student learning assessed authentically through industry software

The term “authentic” often appears in literature on assessing student learning as a direct method that resembles industry tasks and activities. Academic partnerships with industry can facilitate this type of learning and assessment.

One such partnership at Purdue Polytechnic is with Travis Fuerst, assistant professor of practice, and Jorge 

Camba, associate professor, who work with Aras Innovator, a product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions provider. Students in the professors’ Computer Graphics Technology courses store, work individually and in groups, and submit their assignments using cloud-based solutions.

Planning began in fall 2018, working with two graduate students in an independent study course. The PLM solution was deployed with one undergraduate CGT class spring 2019 and others this fall. Additional software interfaces are being explored and, eventually, the professors hope to develop a connector to Purdue’s LMS. The systematic integration was recently presented by the professors and their graduate students during an industry conference.

Q: Why partner with an industry provider in your courses?

Fuerst: The previous process – using documents saved to hard drives and shared folders – did not represent industry standards. We want PLM solutions to be part of the flow of the course, instead of just a topic that is covered in a lecture and a couple of assignments. They get to see and interact with the system over the entire semester, which really drives the value of the tool home.

Q: How do students benefit?

Fuerst: Students are able to come out of these courses and go into an internship with experience in a type of application they might not otherwise see in in the college classroom unless they are in our Virtual Project Integration (VPI) program, where we have follow-on courses dedicated to this type of application. In these transformed classes, all students get to be users of the application in context of their coursework, which gives them a significant head start in the follow-on courses.

Q: It’s not unusual to see application-specific courses at 300-level courses, but you began the integration with a freshman course, CGT 103 Geometric Modeling Applications. Why integrate the PLM at this level?

Fuerst: I was led to implement a PLM system into my CGT 103 course based on my industry experience. I wanted students to store their models where they would be stored in industry. I also wanted to teach relational design in the course, which cannot be done effectively using file share systems, cloud storage and a standard LMS. The best way to do this was via a PLM system.

We provide minimal instruction on the tool as the students are merely users at this point, but gaining valuable experience in the use of enterprise application without really knowing it. We provide them a textbook that covers the basics of a PLM, and give them context for using it in the course, and why it is important. By introducing it on the first day of class, it just becomes part of the class. This mimics how PLM is used within industry, as most personnel are users of the tool and don’t know or care how it works.

Q: Why use a step-by-step integration and collect data?

Fuerst: We used CGT 514 Product Lifecycle Management to come up with the process and best practices for using the tool in the classroom. As part of the course, students go through the process of developing an effective solution using a systematic approach to ensure stakeholder approval and user adoption. This gives them experience with the administration side and how users perceive the tools and all the requirements that come from stakeholders when setting up and deploying an enterprise application. They also had to develop some basic training and documentation.

The graduate students and I looked into how we could leverage the tool to manage the classroom instead of a standard LMS.  We then made some slight tweaks through configuration and deployed it in my CGT 103 undergraduate modeling course.

My CGT 103 course in the spring was essentially a pilot for the deployment. Once we worked out the bugs, we decided to scale it to our other freshman level courses in CGT 163 Graphical Communication and Spatial Analysis and CGT 110 Technical Graphics Communication, both taught by Craig Miller, which has more than 650 students, combined. CGT 163 is a service course we provide to first year Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering for 3D modeling. CGT 110 is also a 3D modeling service course we provide for Engineering Technology and Liberal Arts students. These are the only formal courses in modeling students will have, unless they are in the VPI minor.  With the transformation, they are not only exposed to modeling, but also to PLM, which they will likely use during an internship or when they land a full-time position.

We’ve also expanded the system into other CGT courses like CGT 203 Model Based Definition instructed by Rosemary Astheimer and plan to further incorporate it into other courses as well.

Q: Why choose an academic partnership with Ara Innovator?

Fuerst: One reason is that we have a good relationship with them and they are very supportive of teaching PLM in the engineering curriculum. Another reason we chose Aras was due to its capabilities. It is flexible, simple to use and relatively easy to configure. As an academic partner, Aras provided support to use as we developed our solution. We also have support through the Engineering Computing Network (ECN).

Camba: Aras Innovator is, at its core, a data management system. We are just managing data in a different context, much like different types of engineering companies manage their data differently. It all comes down to how you look at these systems. It would be easy to say that, since this is not an Academic LMS, it does not do what we want it to do. I tend to focus more on the outcome by looking at how can we use this tool to deliver the same outcome as an LMS. By looking at it from this angle, you can leverage the existing objects and workflows in the tool to provide the desired outcome if you are willing to depart from the norms of your given context.

Writer: Karen S. Neubauer, assistant director, Center for Instructional Excellence, 765-494-5110,

Last updated: November 20, 2019