The Role of Sketching in Engineering and Impacts of an Intelligent Tutoring Software, Sketchtivity

Vimal Viswanathan
Associate Professor & Chair
San Jose State University

Freehand sketching is an essential skill for engineers. Sketching enables designers to represent ideas rapidly and offload working memory. Sketching frequently in the design process also correlates with positive design outcomes. Teaching sketching to engineers, however, presents many challenges in engineering curriculums. Sketching is most often taught in large entry-level courses where individualized feedback, which is vital to learning sketching, is not possible. Sketchtivity is an intelligent tutoring software designed to aid in the practice of and feedback on freehand sketching skills. Sketchtivity teaches the basics of two-point perspective sketching providing lessons, feedback, and tips on how to improve. The goal of this project is to implement Sketchtivity at a broader range of universities, to expand on the software functionality, and to understand more about the implications of improving sketching skill. Sketchtivity is currently being implemented in classrooms at three diverse universities across the United States. Our research has shown that the tablet interface does not negatively impact students’ sketching skill development. We are currently conducting further experiments to better understand how students are learning from the feedback the software provides. Beyond measuring current impact, this project seeks to expand the functionality of Sketchtivity to offer lessons on more complex sketching tasks and more poignant feedback to learners. The main research goal is focused on improving sketching skills. The remaining goals turn outward toward the implications for improved sketching skill for engineers. It is essential to understand how to measure sketching skill effectively, and what role sketching skill plays in engineering design. Sketching skill has been measured in many different ways in many different fields and there seems to be no consensus on measurement strategy or validity. As a part of this project, we are conducting a systematic literature review of sketching evaluation. This literature review aims to compile the different methods of measurement to remove some of the ambiguity around evaluating sketching skill in engineering research and education. There has been much research on the role of sketching in engineering design, but the research around sketching skill has been limited. Essential to improving skill in any task is understanding how confidence in the skill is affected. Engineers’ self-efficacy can enable or limit their application of skills. We are also looking at how sketching skill is related to drawing self-efficacy. Sketching has the largest impact in the early stages of design. The final research goal of this project is to investigate the relationship between sketching and creativity in the early stages of design. Through experiments of idea generation and sketching abilities, we hope to better understand to what degree sketching enables creativity in design. To summarize, this project seeks to improve sketching skill through Sketchtivity. We are accomplishing this through expanding reach at multiple universities and expanding the capabilities of the software. It is also essential to understand the implications of improving sketching skill. This is being investigated through improved evaluation of sketching and investigations of sketching’s relationship to drawing self-efficacy and creativity.


Morgan Weaver, Georgia Institute of Technology,; Hillary Merzdorf, Purdue University,