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A. Hirsch, V. Wittstock, F. Puerzel

University of Technology Chemnitz, Professorship for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (GERMANY)
The teaching contents within the academic education of engineers are often complex products and processes. To help the students to get a profound understanding of those products and processes is highly complicated, especially when only using ‘standard’ presentation techniques such as Microsoft PowerPoint Slides. For that reason, lectures are in most cases accompanied by exercises and sometimes practical training. As there are still around 20 or more students within one exercise group, the imparting of knowledge in exercises is also mainly based on slides and small prototypic objects. Only in practical training courses, when there are around ten students, do they get the chance of “learning by doing”. As it is on the one hand very cost intensive to always have up to date machinery and on the other hand sometimes dangerous to operate a machine, students either have to learn on outdated machines or have to watch passively while the lecturer carries out different processes (e.g. welding). So the question is how to improve the explanation of complex technical products and processes.

This article discusses chances as well as risks and gives examples of one possible solution: the use of the Virtual Reality (VR) Technology for the engineering education at universities. The VR Technology helps university lecturers to explain complex objects allowing the students to immerse in the 1:1, ready to interact in real-time, visualization of the object of interest. The students have the 3D object right in front of them while the lecturer can add or remove other objects, cut through existing objects or move through the scene to whatever position fits best for the explanation. If the lecturer e.g. wants to describe a milling process it would, because of cooling lubricant and safety components, on the real machine be impossible for the students to see the process. In VR on the contrary it is possible to remove components that balk the view.

As the use of VR Technology is different in all the forms of university teaching the article will describe its use in the following areas, both in theory and with the help of examples how the technology is used and planned to be used at the Professorship Machine Tools and Forming Technology at the Chemnitz University Technology:

• VR to improve lectures
• VR Technology for exercises and practical training
• VR Technology as a teaching object itself
• Use of VR Technology for student research projects and final papers/theses

The article will exclude neither the efforts necessary to integrate VR, nor the problems resulting for lecturers and students. Despite the effort and the problems the use of Virtual Reality systems for educational purposes at universities will improve the imparting of complex issues and therefore enables a faster and more purposeful expert education. The visualization of the relevant teaching content, using the virtual-interactive environment in combination with practical training, will help to improve the training results.