Teaching and Learning Forum 96 [ Contents ]

Applying computer graphics to teaching of aircraft systems operations

Barry Gibson
Chairperson, Department of Human Movement
Edith Cowan University


This paper is designed to indicate some of the problems that have arisen in the planning and the early stages of the development of the CAUT funded project "Applying computer graphics to the teaching of aircraft systems operations".

Aviation, along with all key global industries, is dependant on robust growth to maintain its leading role in the economies of many countries. A key to this growth is education - education aimed at harnessing the knowledge explosion which effects the lives and decisions of us all.

The growth of knowledge is not only expanding at an exponential rate, it is becoming ever more sophisticated so it is not surprising to find educational levels needed by employees in all sorts of industries is rising rapidly. Aviation is no exception.

The technological advancements in aviation have been apparent in the development of new aircraft and the computerisation of major systems associated with their performance. This has resulted in the need for improved training methods for the pilots involved in their operation.

Over the last decade aviation studies including pilot training has become a very popular discipline at the tertiary level. At this point in time there are eight universities throughout Australia with degree programmes specialising in pilot training. It was the growth in this area that lead to the development of this project.


This project was designed to establish a computer assisted instructional package to complement the teaching of aviation to trainee pilots, whether they were undertaking aviation studies at universities or other aviation educational centres throughout Australia. Following the establishment of the aviation degree programme at Edith Cowan University, it became necessary to provide additional learning aids to supplement the teaching programme.

The material that was readily available included films, videos, slide sets and a variety of charts. A thorough search of the resources failed to locate any computer based learning material that would permit the student to take part in an interactive learning process. A decision was therefore made to produce material that would serve this function and which could be made available to all aviation educational institutions.

Need and demand

As there are eight universities teaching similar degrees throughout Australasia, together with courses being run at TAFE colleges, flying schools and the Royal Australian Airforce, it was apparent that such a programme would be in demand and if effective could become a very marketable resource.

Major Considerations

After ascertaining that a computer assisted learning package would be useful in aviation education, it was necessary to establish the specific disciplines that needed to be included in the content area. Consultation with aviation representatives indicated that the areas best suited to this type of approach would be aviation medicine, aircraft systems and air training.

Because of the variety of training institutions that demonstrated interest in the use of such a package, it was also important to consider the depth and standard of materials that would be prepared, although this could be adjusted as the project progressed.

Consideration had also to be given to the choice of materials and aircraft type depicted in the programme so as to cater for the broadest possible market. There were a variety of aircraft considered for this purpose, ranging from the light aircraft used for every day training through to the modern aircraft that are seen operating on national and international routes. Between these two extremes are the light commuter aircraft that are operated by small regional airlines throughout the various states of Australia.

An approach was made to the RAAF, and they indicated that they would be interested in using this teaching instrument with their trainee pilots. They also indicated their willingness to co-operate by providing materials and personnel if we decided to design a package that involved the use of one of their training aircraft. This offer was carefully considered and the decision was made to work in close liaison with the RAAF using the resources offered.

Because of the offer of assistance that was extended to us by the RAAF, the aircraft chosen as the model for the project was the Pilatus PC9/A trainer. This turboprop trainer is fitted with advanced flight electronic instrumentation and provides examples of the most up to date systems in this area.

Within the university, a project reference group was also selected. This group included personnel with the required skills and expertise to assist in all aspects of the programme. This involved personnel from computing, graphics, multimedia, science and various interested groups involved in aviation degrees.

Additional Considerations

Once decisions had been made regarding the content, the aircraft and the expert personnel, the following additional factors were given consideration:

Programming Issues

Once the final decision was made about the medium, personnel and resources to be used in the project, the task of costing had to be undertaken. This was an area which was to cause initial problems.

The programme involved considerable usage of graphics, and while Edith Cowan University had staff with the relevant expertise to undertake this task, it was very difficult to calculate how many hours would be required to complete the various modules. The quality and quantity of the graphics was another question that posed a problem. This uncertainty made it very difficult to accurately budget for the total programme.

An estimate was made after consultation with experienced graphic artists and programmers who surveyed the content to be covered and the detail that was required.

As this material was new to the graphic designers, it was essential to complete everything in detail. The total programme was, therefore, prepared with the script and diagrams that were required. All this had to be done before the material was handed over to the designers. Assistance and guidance was gained from university computing staff who had worked in multimedia productions and were conversant with such factors as recommended format, design and structure. This assistance proved invaluable as it ensured that the style of the finished product was attractive and user friendly.

It was important for the material to be programmed and presented in a stimulating manner. In order to achieve this, every endeavour has been made to integrate the content material into a flying context. It is hoped that this will ensure that the student's interest is maintained while using the package. We did not want this learning experience to become another rote learning exercise.

Student Assessment

As the programme was designed to facilitate students' learning, it was necessary to ensure that the computer package provided the opportunity for students to not only learn material, but to also have the chance to test themselves and their knowledge of the content. This involved writing a series of short test questions related to the material covered in each module. These questions are structured in a manner that enables the student to gain immediate feedback, together with the opportunity to go back and re-learn sections that are proving troublesome. A comprehensive examination was also included at the end of the programme to allow the students to assess their overall performance in all modules.

It is important that this type of programme be structured, trialed and revised as an ongoing process. This will enable the most satisfactory end results to be achieved and ensures that the package produced will be suitable for use at the tertiary level. In order to achieve this end, the sequences are monitored as they are produced, and the graphic artist and programmer complete the recommended changes as they arise. This avoids an extensive amount of work being completed which is unsatisfactory, and time and money being wasted. The next consideration will be to expose the programme to as many people as possible along the way so as to gain feedback and make changes as they are indicated.

The structuring and inclusion of questions for self assessment is a very important part of this package, and it is essential that these also be constructed and trialed with groups of students so as to gauge the suitability, validity and reliability of the questions. Time must be considered to allow this to take place.

Evaluation of the Programme

It is planned to evaluate this programme as an on going exercise during it's construction. This will be done by distributing it to other staff and students working in the aviation area. On completion of the first draft of the total programme, it will be distributed to a wider group for feedback. This will include other staff lecturing in aviation in tertiary institutions, RAAF, flying schools, TAFE and secondary schools involved in aviation education. Changes will then be made after all recommendations are considered.

Further trialing and assessment will take place and the fine tuning completed before it is considered for commercial usage.

One should recognise that with any technological package, material will become dated and provision should be made for the continual updating of the units by the authors. New versions could then be forwarded to those institutions using the programme, or an alternative to this procedure would be to make provision in the programme whereby the users can make their own amendments as they are required.

Please cite as: Gibson, B. (1996). Applying computer graphics to teaching of aircraft systems operations. In Abbott, J. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Teaching and Learning Within and Across Disciplines, p53-56. Proceedings of the 5th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1996. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/gibson.html

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