Why This Michigan Teacher Predicts That Cloud CAD Will Make His Engineering Classes More Rigorous in the Remote Learning Era


At least 100 Michigan school districts are starting the academic year with remote learning, including Saline High School (SHS) and the regional South and West Washtenaw Consortium (SWWC) located about 10 miles outside of Ann Arbor. Anticipating this development, technology teacher Steve Vasiloff, who has 200 students enrolled in his engineering and design classes at both schools, began looking for a cloud-based CAD program over the summer to prevent a repeat of the spring semester’s unpleasant surprise.

Like most schools worldwide, the Saline district had to send its students home last spring for a semester of remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Vasiloff, the chaos forced him to quickly develop two different lesson plans for each class: one for the “haves” and one for the “have-nots.”

Steve Vasiloff

Steve Vasiloff, technology teacher at Saline High School in Saline, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Steve Vasiloff.)

Students who had PCs powerful enough to run installed CAD software were able to continue their radial engine assembly projects at home, while those without CAD access were given impromptu essay questions and discussion topics such as “What was the greatest invention of all time and why?”

“We had been using Autodesk products. So I had to say to everyone, ‘Okay, go home and download Inventor.’ But the kids with Macs and Chromebooks couldn’t do that. Very quickly I had to ask myself, how am I going to be able to do my job and teach CAD remotely? And at the end of last year, I just found it to be impossible.”

Free Projects: Engage Your Students From Home with Free Distance Learning Projects

Cloud-based Onshape runs on any computer and is accessible to all students

Michigan students learning Onshape

Using Onshape’s web-based CAD and data management system will allow Michigan technology teacher Steve Vasiloff to remotely offer guidance to his students as if he were face-to-face in the classroom. (Photo courtesy of Steve Vasiloff).

After 15 years of teaching with file-based installed CAD systems, Vasiloff has moved all his classes this fall to cloud-based Onshape. As a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, Onshape runs on any computer (Macs, PCs, or Chromebooks) or mobile device (iOS or Android), and doesn’t require any installs, downloads, license codes, upgrades, or any expensive high-performance hardware.

The Saline School District is starting the first three weeks in September with all-remote learning and has a fluid plan to move to a hybrid of in-person classes with some online classes if the coronavirus is kept under control. When Vasiloff’s engineering and manufacturing students use browser-based Onshape, they will have instant access to both their CAD system and their designs – just by logging in with their email address.

To get ready for the upcoming semester, Vasiloff taught himself Onshape this summer and then developed his own curriculum. He says the learning curve is fast for anyone with experience using other CAD systems.

“I was animating constraints in an assembly in under an hour,” he says. “All I had to learn to get started was a few keyboard shortcuts and finding what I needed in some dropdown menus.”

Vasiloff’s easy transition to Onshape is consistent with many high school STEM classes and college engineering and industrial design courses that suddenly switched to cloud CAD in the middle of the semester last spring. But after designing a few 3D models in Onshape, the teacher says he now considers the remote learning benefits to be secondary.

“The built-in version control blew my mind,” he says. “File management is one of the toughest things you can expect a high school kid to handle. I can’t tell you how many times a student will do 20 geometric instructions, put them in a folder, zip it, email it to me and there are 10 files missing. That’s because a student didn’t realize they were saving some of their files in ‘My Documents’ and not in their proper folder.”

“Onshape’s approach is a total game-changer,” Vasiloff adds. “From now on, all their work will be automatically stored in one place.”

“Onshape will help make my classes more rigorous.”

Running out of wall space

Running Out of Wall Space – In 2019, South and West Washtenaw Consortium (SWWC) CAD students came home from the prestigious MITES competition with 16 state champions, 22 second-place winners and 18 third-place finishes. (Photo courtesy of Steve Vasiloff.)

There is always a waiting list to get into Vasiloff’s courses. Many students enrolled have ambitions to later pursue engineering degrees at the nearby University of Michigan, and there is a competitive classroom culture that spills over into extracurricular activities. At last year’s Michigan Industrial Technology Education Society (MITES) competition, Saline students had 111 projects advance to the regionals, with 56 of them later placing first, second, or third in the state. The class photo above tells the story best. Note the plaques from previous classes displayed on the wall.

“I was the head coach of a varsity wrestling team for nine years, and a lot of that competitiveness transferred even more so into my CAD program,” Vasiloff says. “That’s how I treat it. I treat it like the real world and tell my students, ‘You are going to be competing to get into college, competing for internships, competing for jobs. You’re going to be competing your whole life.’”

“My teaching philosophy has always been, ‘It’s your job to do your best. It’s my job to make your best better.’ You do your job. I’ll do my job. Good things will happen,” he adds.

In that spirit, the educator says he believes that moving his classes to the cloud will have a significant impact on his teaching style even when the pandemic is no longer a threat.

“I’ve never really truly been able to give my students homework. The first reason is that I can’t require them to have expensive PCs that can run that software. Second off, if they get stuck, are their parents going to be able to help them with CAD? Maybe a few. But now if a student is struggling and sends me an email at night, I will be able to open up their Onshape model on my phone. I can help my students without even leaving the couch,” he says.

Vasiloff has traditionally held after-school and lunchtime help sessions in the school’s computer lab because many students have been unable to access their CAD work at home.

“Now, I can actually increase the rigor of my classes, knowing that these kids will all have access at home,” he says. “One of the coolest parts of my job is that the technology is always changing. My sister is an English teacher and I’ve joked with her about how ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is always going to be ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ An important book, but the story isn’t going to change. Every year, I’m re-evaluating my tools. I’m always trying to figure out what we can do better.”

Onshape Education Enterprise: Reducing the IT burden for schools and universities

Thousands of K-12 schools and universities have relied on the zero-cost Onshape Education Standard plan since its launch in 2016. This summer, PTC released Onshape Education Enterprise, a new premium edition for educational institutions to more easily manage teacher and student usage across classes, departments, and school organizations.

The Education Enterprise plan allows institutions to significantly reduce their administrative overhead by easily scaling up CAD access, managing permissions, and gaining insights into student design activity through real-time analytics. (A comprehensive rundown of the benefits of this new premium plan can be found here.)

In response to the challenges and uncertainties of the upcoming academic year, PTC is offering the Onshape Education Enterprise plan free for a limited time to schools and universities that sign up by November 20, 2020. To learn more about this offer and how it can help your unique educational needs, please connect with the Onshape Education team here.

Interested in seeing how other educators are using Onshape in their curriculum? Check out the webinars below to hear how K-12 and university faculty made cloud CAD a central part of their courses:

Switching to Onshape during distance learning?

To help educators make a seamless transition to Onshape, SolidProfessor has launched a new online learning path for Onshape. This distance learning course can easily integrate into any existing syllabus and is available now on the platform for SolidProfessor for Schools members.

Schedule a time to speak with an academic product specialist if you’d like to learn how you can use SolidProfessor’s on-demand courses in your remote, hybrid, or in-person classroom.


Darren Garnick
About the Author

Content Director for Onshape at PTC.