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Interactive Sketching in Multi-Touch Digital Books. A Prototype for ... Our system takes advantage of the multimedia elements offered by modern eBooks ...

Copyright IEEE de la Torre, J.; Saorin, J.L.; Contero, M.; Dorribo-Camba, J., "Interactive sketching in multitouch digital books. A prototype for technical graphics," Frontiers in Education Conference, 2013 IEEE , pp.190,194, 23-26 Oct. 2013 doi: 10.1109/FIE.2013.6684814 URL:

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Interactive Sketching in Multi-Touch Digital Books. A Prototype for Technical Graphics Jorge de la Torre, José Luis Saorín

Manuel Contero

Jorge Dorribo-Camba

Departamento de Expresión Gráfica en Arquitectura e Ingeniería Universidad de La Laguna, Spain {jcantero, jlsaorin}

Instituto de Investigación en Bioingeniería y Tecnología Orientada al Ser Humano (I3BH) Universitat Politècnica de València Valencia, Spain [email protected]

Engineering Design Graphics Texas A&M University College Station, TX [email protected]

Abstract—In this paper, we present a functional prototype of an interactive multi-touch book with drawing capabilities, intended to enhance the understanding of engineering graphics concepts and improve visualization skills. Our multi-touch book combines textual elements with rich media content and interactive exercises to allow students to practice technical sketching in an environment that simulates traditional paper-based drawings and tools. Additionally, finished drawings can be submitted to the instructor via email directly from the digital book, which facilitates management tasks. A comparative study of traditional and digital sketching using our prototype was conducted with a small group of participants to evaluate the effectiveness of the tool. Preliminary results show positive reactions and acceptance. Keywords— multi-touch book; virtual sketching; interactive book; mobile learning



Freehand drawing and sketching have been traditionally considered fundamental building blocks of the engineering design process and important activities in the development of spatial skills. In engineering education, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) lists the “ability to communicate effectively” as one of the eleven student outcomes required for accrediting engineering programs [1]. This outcome is typically interpreted as a broad term that comprises written, verbal, and graphical communication [2]. In 2004, the Engineering Design Graphics Division of the American Society for Engineering Education piloted a study to categorize the most important outcomes for engineering students in terms of graphical communication [3]. In this study, the “ability to create 3-D solid computer models” and the “ability to sketch engineering objects freehand” appeared at the top of the list. Despite major adoptions of Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, many engineering schools still require students to be able to sketch and communicate their ideas graphically without the aid of computer tools as part of their curricula. According to the taxonomy proposed by [4], sketches can be classified as thinking sketches, aimed at guiding non-verbal thinking; talking sketches, used to support the design discussion with colleagues; and prescriptive sketches, which provide instructions to the draftsman/designers in charge of developing the final drawings. Sketching is considered a powerful design instrument, which can greatly boost creativity and innovation. It is among the best forms of documentation in the early stages of the engineering design process and an effective tool to communicate preliminary design ideas to others [5]. In educational settings, sketching is usually practiced using paper-based exercises and traditional tools such as pencils and erasers. Drafting books and engineering graphics teaching materials typically include design problems and drawing activities that must be completed freehand. Although electronic books are being well-received in many areas, paper-based activities are still dominant in sketching and technical graphics courses. This is due, in part, to a lack of appropriate digital alternatives. Although both traditional books and sketching have transitioned to digital forms, they have done it separately, creating a disconnection between them. On one hand, current electronic books are designed to read and visualize content, but users cannot draw or sketch directly on the pages. On the other hand, digital sketching software and tools allow users to create freehand drawings in the computer, but these tools are not fully integrated within electronic books. Digital sketching tools are becoming commonplace in engineering and product development, particularly during conceptual design stages, but in educational contexts, a closer integration with existing teaching materials is desirable. In this paper, we present a prototype of an interactive electronic book with built-in digital sketching capabilities targeted at engineering graphics and visualization courses. Our system takes advantage of the multimedia elements offered by modern eBooks

and the interactive multi-touch features available in tablets. The result is an integrated digital resource with enriched interactive learning materials and “digital worksheets” that students can complete either by touching the tablet screen with one finger or, preferably, with a stylus pen. Additionally, these “worksheets” can be submitted electronically to the instructor using the email functionality also implemented in the digital book. II.


Electronic books, or eBooks, are considered to have started with Project Gutenberg in 1971 [6, 7]. It was that year when the idea of digital books for personal computers was originally conceived. Project Gutenberg pioneered the concept of digital library and since then, multiple events, especially after the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1990, have contributed to the growth and popularity of eBooks. In 1995, Amazon opened the first online bookstore. Two years later, in 1997, electronic ink (E-ink), a popular technology used by modern e-readers, was developed. Best-selling author Stephen King released his book “Riding the Bullet” exclusively in digital format in the year 2000; and in 2004, Internet giant Google launched Google Print, a service that made thousands of books and magazines available online. The first commercial eBook readers, or e-readers, with black and white electronic paper displays appeared in 2006. Most devices included Internet access to online digital bookstores, which along with the development of popular file formats for digital books such as epub, contributed to increased eBook sales worldwide [8]. In early 2010, Apple introduces the iPad, the first commercial tablet with a multi-touch screen that allows users to interact with all multimedia elements associated to a personal computer (images, video, interactive graphics, 3D models, etc). Since then, other companies have released their multi-touch tablets, making electronic books more popular than ever before [6, 7]. Finally, in 2012, Apple releases iBooks Author, an authoring tool to create multimedia books for iPad. The tool was released free of charge and represents another step forward in the evolution of electronic books. A. Standards for Electronic Books Standardization of digital formats is a fundamental requirement for proper compatibility and interoperability between applications. Standards establish consistent and reliable protocols that ensure that information is clearly communicated and universally understood. There are currently multiple formats for electronic books at different stages of standardization [9]. EPUB, for example, the main open standard for eBooks, is in its version 3 at the time of this writing. The popular PDF file format has been the de facto standard for printable documents for many years. In 2008, it was released as ISO standard 32000. Because of the wide variety of formats, not all electronic books are supported by all devices. Furthermore, support for multimedia components within eBooks is currently not standardized, which means that different eBook formats may support different types of multimedia content. After selecting a representative group of eBook formats and comparing their relevant features and multimedia support, Apple’s iBook format was selected for our prototype and tests.

Fig. 1. Prototype eBook in Digital Tablet

The availability and affordability of mobile devices, particularly tablets, as well as the ability to incorporate multimedia content make multi-touch books a very attractive tool for educational applications, particularly in technical and scientific areas with significant visual content (medicine, biology, etc). In the area of engineering design graphics, for example, three-dimensional

models can be very effective when used to illustrate the concept of orthographic projection. 3D visualizations can also help students understand certain architectural and civil engineering structures. Visual content in educational materials was traditionally created by graphic professionals and technical illustrators and was limited almost exclusively to static images [10]. The use of multimedia content in tablets and eBooks represents a major improvement over classic educational resources [11]. A view of the prototype eBook described in this work can be seen in Fig. 1. III.


The development of digital tablet devices started few decades ago. In 1972, Alan Kay designed the Dynabook [12], a portable educational device for children. Multiple uses and applications for this design were described, but the Dynabook was never produced despite reaching the prototype stage. In the early 1990’s, portable computer devices such as NCR system 3125, IBM’s 2125, and the Apple Message Pad, also known as Newton, were released commercially [13]. For about a decade, the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) dominated the world of tactile portable devices, where Palm positioned itself as the market leader. In 2001, Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Tablet PC, a pen-enabled computer running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. During the following years, other notebooks and portable devices with reduced price and size were also launched. In 2010, Apple announced the release of its revolutionary digital tablet, the iPad, which takes advantage of the company’s previous experience with multi-touch mobile devices already in the market (iPhone and iPhone Touch). The popularity of these devices is partly due to a successful combination of hardware, built around the device’s multi-touch display, and Apple’s operating system iOS, and to the creation of a virtual store (App Store) for applications. This store provides a digital software distribution platform with applications for Apple devices that can be directly downloaded from the Internet. Since 2011, other brands and manufacturers of digital tablets have created their own application stores, such as Google Play for Android devices. The popularity and rapid expansion of portable electronic devices, particularly smart phones and tablets, are gradually transforming learning styles and opening new possibilities for distributing educational content to students. Some authors use the term “tablet-learning” to actively encourage the development of new educational materials for tablets, which take advantage of the technology and adjust to the digital and mobile nature of modern students’ habits and lifestyles [14]. Previous studies have been done to determine the factors that influence the students’ acceptance of digital tablets in educational settings [15]. In 2010, a six-month research study with 40 faculty members at the University of San Francisco experimented with and shared potential uses of the iPad in higher education [16]. The study concluded that educational iPad apps could be used to support teaching and learning, and evaluated the usability of the device in terms of reading, writing, communication, and creation of content. Not surprisingly, many educational applications are already available for digital tablets. These applications benefit greatly from the mobility, multi-touch capabilities, and 3D interaction offered by the tablet technology. These features are particularly helpful in drawing apps, providing an interesting way to interact with graphic content. An extensive compilation built by [17] in 2011 illustrates the potential of “tablet-learning” for teaching drawing, design and graphic arts. With the advent of iBooks Author (Apple’ free authoring tool for iBooks) in early 2012, many multimedia educational books are being developed. There are some examples in the area of engineering design graphics, but more work needs to be done to fully exploit the multimedia capabilities. IV.


As part of this work, we developed a functional prototype of a multi-touch digital book aimed at providing an integrated environment for digital sketching (see Fig. 1, Fig. 2, and Fig. 3). The ability to visualize and interact with three-dimensional models included within the electronic book is a desirable feature, as is the completion of traditional sketching exercises without having to print out any drawing templates. For this prototype, we selected a representative learning unit present in most engineering design graphics curricula: orthographic projection and multi-view drawing. All exercises included in the eBook simulate traditional freehand sketching activities. The prototype was developed as an iBook (version 3 or higher) for iPad using Apple’s iBooks Authoring tool.

Fig. 2. 3D widgets in Prototype eBook

Fig. 3. Interface of Prototype eBook

By default, Apple’s iBooks Author allows the inclusion of a variety of multimedia elements, such as graphics and video, within the iBook. In addition, custom widgets can be developed to provide extra functionality. Widgets are relatively small pieces of software that provide a specific service within a bigger application. Desktop widgets in personal computers, for example, are used to show the latest news headlines or the current weather. In interactive eBooks, widgets can be used to customize utilities, tools, and other features. For our prototype, we developed a custom widget to provide a digital sketching environment, where students can “draw” directly on the pages of the electronic book and submit the exercises electronically to the instructor. The following elements were included in the prototype:  Photo Gallery.  Custom widgets, designed to simulate a traditional sketching environment.  3D models, with solutions to the exercises.  Videos, with learning materials covering orthographic projection and Multi-View Drawings.  Email capability, to send exercises and assignments.



In order to evaluate the usefulness and effectiveness of our interactive sketching eBook, we conducted a preliminary study with a small group of seven graduate students enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Teaching with a concentration in Drawing, Design, and Graphic Arts. Because of their artistic backgrounds, all participants had previous experience with traditional sketching. For this pilot study, we compared traditional sketching activities, using grid paper and a pencil, versus digital sketching, using our eBook prototype. The digital sketching activities were performed on an iPad tablet with iBooks version 3.1. The study was conducted as part of the workshop “Representation and Analysis of 3D Shapes” available as a multimedia book at The new prototype sketching eBook was provided as supplementary material and made available free of charge in Apple’s iBook Store: The sketching iBook “Maqueta ejercicios 2D” can be viewed with iBooks version 3.0 or higher with iOS 5.1 or higher. A. Methodology For the first part of the study, participants were given a traditional drawing template with several exercises and a pencil (see Fig. 4). First, they were asked to sketch the orthographic views of different objects given their isometric views. Next, a second page was distributed where participants were asked to sketch the isometric views of different objects given their orthographic views. In both cases, grids (orthographic and isometric) were available in the template as visual aids.

Fig. 4. Drawing Template for Traditional Sketching

In order to test the effectiveness of our prototype, a second series of similar exercises was completed by the participants using an iPad with the interactive sketching book we developed (see Fig. 5). Participants created the drawings freehand either by touching the screen with one finger or with a stylus pen. This was implemented using the Sketchpad widget available at Drawing submission via email was also tested, which participants acknowledged as a valuable feature in terms of saving time and paper when completing the exercises.

Fig. 5. Custom Widget for Digital Sketching



To estimate the educational value and the level of user satisfaction, we compared our digital sketching prototype with the traditional sketching approach using a simple questionnaire that was distributed to participants at the end of the exercise. Participants were asked to score both sketching experiences (traditional and digital) from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) based on a series of questions. The seven questions presented in the questionnaire as well as the mean scores for both sketching experiences are shown in Table I and illustrated in Fig. 6. TABLE I.


Traditional Sketching

Digital Sketching

Q1. Improves visualization skills



Q2. Useful



Q3. Intuitive; easy to use







Q6. Easy to learn



Q7. Overall Experience



I would like to complete more Q4. exercises (Motivation) Helps with the understanding of Q5. technical graphics concepts

Fig. 6. Comparative results of sketching experiences

Due to the small sample size used in this pilot study, the results regarding user experience with our interactive sketching prototype cannot be considered conclusive. It is interesting to see, however, that this preliminary data show a slight tendency of the participants toward the digital sketching experience. VII. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK Our work has shown that the use of multimedia elements in electronic books has the potential to enhance traditional teaching materials and learning activities. Interactive three-dimensional visualizations can be easily incorporated to eBooks, providing additional value to plain text and static two-dimensional graphics. This can be particularly useful in technical and scientific areas that are rich in visual information, such as engineering design graphics. The multi-touch displays in modern tablets provide a natural interface for activities that must simulate traditional paper-based exercises, such as sketching. Additionally, internet connectivity features allow the integration of network services into the electronic book. In our prototype, students use the built-in email client to send their work to the instructors, which reduces de amount of paper in the classroom, reduces time, and facilitates grading and management tasks. In the future, we plan on expanding our interactive book for engineering design graphics by increasing the number of chapters, exercises, and interactive multimedia content. Although positive preliminary results were obtained in our first pilot study, we would like to conduct a more extensive analysis with larger groups of participants to evaluate the effects of our prototype in the students’ performance. We believe interactive books are attractive, engaging, and provide new ways to complement existing learning materials. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This work was supported with funds from the project: "Improving spatial and visual reasoning through advanced technological tools" (ESREVIC). Ministry of Education, National Plan I+D+I (2008-2011). TIN2010 Ref-21296-C02-02.

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