Monday, February 29, 2016

Adventures with AutoCAD C3D

This semester, I have been teaching a lab on AutoCAD Civil 3D to a class of 60-odd students, almost none of whom have ever used the program, and a good chunk of whom never even used plain vanilla AutoCAD either. It brings back memories of my final year in Roorkee, when we were saddled with an impossibly difficult BTP that had to use ArcGIS and AutoCAD Civil 3D. Back then, a bunch of us sat together and decided to join hands to figure out how to make it happen - from obtaining profiles for a geotechnical stability analysis to designing the alignment of a hill road, we found our way about it, even if the final product wasn't the best out there.

Little did I know that about three years later, I would be teaching those very skills to a class, to apply to a challenging but much smaller problem. It is a strange feeling indeed to explain alignments and profiles, assemblies and corridors, and then to hope that it makes sense to the students! It started off pretty badly, as I tried to make people follow step-by-step. Fortunately, a previous workshop on LabVIEW that I had attended gave me a way out. I've realized that, despite the funny answers in homework and exams, these students are smart and don't need their hands to be held. And thus I created a radically new format for this class, one that was never tried before, and it has been a great success! It is a pleasure to see students not waiting for you but going on to the next page of the manual - they've come far.

I wonder if I would've picked it up so easily if I had been formally taught the program, instead of having to learn it myself. Then again, if I hadn't been forced to learn it myself, I may not have remembered so much at this stage. Life moves in strange ways. Of course I knew that professors were students at some time too, and grad students were undergrads. But I did not expect the transformation to be so swift! Quite a learning experience. 

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