SketchUp and Yestermorrow

Yestermorrow is a wonderfully creative and quirky design/build school I've been attending since last September. I'm in their Sustainable Building and Design certificate program and have just one weekend class left to complete my coursework. I've spent over six weeks in residence at the school since starting in September and have a pretty good sense of Yestermorrow's culture. My background is in education so while I've been absorbing all kinds of great information about design and building I've also been observing and thinking about the pedagogy used to convey that information. If I have any design strength it is in the use (and teaching of) SketchUp. Some of my SketchUp work can be found here and here.

In my three week sustainable design core class I was the only student who made significant use of SketchUp. I wrote about this experience in a previous blog post. There was an interesting discussion about SketchUp at the end of the my project's crit session. During this discussion it became clear that the Yestermorrow teaching community is struggling with whether to continue teaching traditional drafting techniques or bite the bullet and move to SketchUp. John Connell, Yestermorrow's founder, participated in that discussion and mentioned that he was going to teach a sustainable prefab design course in April in which SketchUp use would be required. I attended that course last week (see previous post) and want to share some thoughts about how SketchUp was taught/used.

Most students in the class arrived with very little SketchUp experience. There was an optional Sunday evening session for students who wanted help getting a handle on the program. The intuitive nature of SketchUp's interface, especially the Push/Pull tool, allows students to start using the program quickly, but without a solid understanding of good SketchUp practices a quick start can often lead to signifcant modeling problems down the road. That dynamic very much characterized the use of SketchUp for many in the class. There was much more frustration than there needed to be, and the students' house designs could have developed much further than they did.

So the question is, how to quickly develop good SketchUp use practices?

Here are some suggestions.

1. Require students read SketchUp for Dummies by Aiden Chopra before the class. Aiden is an architect and SketchUp employee. His book is by far the best introduction and reference to SketchUp that I've found.

2. Have a scanner in the classroom so that floor plan drafts done on paper can be scanned and imported into SketchUp. 

3. Teach students how to use groups and components as early as possible. All significant elements of models should be grouped as soon as they are created.

4. Show students how to grab site information from Google Earth as soon as possible.

5. Have students set up and memorize (or learn the default) keyboard shortcuts for at least the Move, Orbit, Push/Pull, Line and Hand tools. 

6. Require all students to have a mouse.

7. Teach students to pay attention to the hints that SketchUp is constantly providing.

8. Teach students how to effectively use the Dimensions box.

9. Provide a SketchUp house model made with best practices. This model could include basic elements which students could copy into their models.

In the following video I build a simple house model making use of some of the practices listed above. If students master the techniques I present in the video they would tend to have a much more positive experience with SketchUp, and teachers could focus more on design concepts and less on SketchUp. (Note: This video was made in one take and a number of the illustrated techniques could be better explained in shorter better prepared presentations.)