Issue 57

Schools nationwide offered 3D CAD Software for Free

(Last Updated On: September 9, 2014)

What if every student, teacher and school in New Zealand had free access to the same 3D software tools that professionals use? Well, that’s exactly what Autodesk has done, writes Lee Suckling.

Autodesk has made the pioneering move to offer every secondary school in New Zealand free access to its professional 3D design software for use on campus, in labs and classrooms via the Autodesk Academic Resource Center.


Educators can also use free project-based curricula on the Autodesk Digital STEAM Workshop, which comprises visual hands-on projects that are designed to inculcate design thinking and problem-solving skills amongst students based on STEAM (science, technology engineering, art and math) subjects.



Introducing Autodesk

Autodesk is a 3D design software company that was founded in 1982. Used by 12 million engineers, designers, and digital artists around the world, it proves a valuable learning tool for students who will enter the workforce already able to use the technology.

Formerly, one of the key barriers for teachers and students to use Autodesk education software was cost – but that’s now gone.

“Autodesk used to give education pricing that was really competitive … but still a barrier,” said Rod Forrest, teacher in charge of design and visual communication at Taupo College, which has been using Autodesk for a number of years. “We used to pay $2,500 for a 25-user licence, with an annual subscription of $500 to keep it up to date.

“One of the great things now is that’s gone. Autodesk software is now free to all educational institutions, as well as for their respective students. Students can download the software at no cost.”

At Feilding High School, Autodesk has been used for two years in its robotics club, and it welcomes the new free model.

“This is going to give all schools the ability to use CAD,” said Graham Conlon, teacher in charge of the club. “It’ll give them exposure to world-class software and it’s a huge eye opener to what students will use at university and in industry.”

With cost no longer a factor, perhaps now the biggest barrier for the software’s use is in teacher expectations. Autodesk also offers a whole selection of lesson plans but, as Taupo College has found, students often just forge ahead..

“The reality is that kids today pick things up so much easier than expected. Your job as a teacher is not to be an expert in this. You’re just the enabler.”


Initially, when Autodesk software was first launched at the Taupo College, Forrest introduced the package to Year 13 students only. After two years of testing it with them, it was rolled out to Year 12 – then he had an epiphany.

“I realised what I was doing was wrong. I needed to start at the other end.”

Autodesk was then introduced at Year 10. Students are given an entire term with the Inventor programme and skills were developed from there upwards.

“A few skill-builder exercises gradually build their confidence,” explained Forrest, noting that only one or two weeks is required for this. “Ultimately what we do is get them to model a small CO2-powered car and produce orthographic drawings for these before creating physical models and racing the cars.

“Increasingly we want kids to learn how to use these tools because this is their future, this is their reality. It’s what’s happening in industry now.”

Rockets are introduced for Year 11 classes.

“They design them, they model them, document them (working drawings) and then they make and they fly them.”

Years 12 and 13 students are working on more complicated robotics, such as designing a robot that will climb an 11cm step. Year 13 students are put into groups of three, develop a collective vision for what their robot might look like, and then split the design into three parts (designating which group member will design which part). This process draws on the key competencies with students having to work in with their peers to ensure that their designs will fit together. This individual design work then becomes their NCEA assessment.

“Making and driving the model is not really part of the assessment. It’s just the fun part.”

Successful egg drop

In 2013, the College started to experiment with introducing CAD to Year 9 classes using the Digital STEAM Workshop (a highly-visual web-based curriculum that inspires students to solve real-world challenges using Autodesk software).

“We used the ‘egg drop’ project from this site and made a few changes to ensure that we kept things simple and to enable us to fit with our short 10-week courses at Year 9. Take a raw egg, and design some kind of container to hold it, and we’ll drop it off from a height onto a concrete floor.”

Used for the egg drop and rocket projects is Autodesk’s 123D Design, which “links in well with 123D Make, which makes the pattern for the laser cutter,” says Forrest.

Tying Autodesk use into the curriculum hasn’t been straight forward, but the design thinking process helps hone students’ problem solving skills.

“In the junior school, the kids still have to communicate a design idea. They’re still doing lots of freehand sketching, and rendering. This is an add-on to that process and helps students to visualise their designs. Most importantly it motivates students because they can see their designs in 3D and can easily make changes.”

In Taupo College’s senior school, there’s an added benefit.

“After using Autodesk to model students’ projects, they go on to produce working drawings. These can then be submitted to NZQA as part of their external assessment portfolio. Our experience with doing that is that it’s helping to lift the students’ grades… certainly it’s helping to lift the engagement in the classroom.”


Feilding High School also uses the Digital STEAM Workshop.

“Autodesk is just being used in the robotics club, so the pick-and-choose model of these workshop exercises lets kids play around and learn as they choose,” said Conlon. “Most kids are up and running in about 10 minutes.

“Our robotics club has about 50 students, and, prior to two years ago, none of them had any experience with CAD software. We’ve learned from online forums and YouTube videos.”

Given such a non-structured approach, Feilding High School’s success with Autodesk is unparalleled. Recently, its robotics club entered – and won – Autodesk’s CAD Sustainable Design Challenge 2014: an online, skill-based competition.

“Because we’re a rural school in a farming district, the students developed a design for a robot that re-crops land (using direct drilling) after a disaster, such as a tsunami. The result was ‘Robot Direct Driller’. They decided to have a go, submit their Autodesk drawings, and see what happened. And we won.”

Other developers offer similar CAD software but Autodesk is the industry standard, Conlon believes.

“We’ve never used anything else but Autodesk’s ease of use makes it the top choice for us.” Moreover, the software can be run on fairly low-end machines and don’t require high-spec desktops. “Our students even use it at home because they can access the same software for free via the Autodesk Education Community,” added Conlon.

Preparing for the future

Students are well prepared for their futures with applied Autodesk experience, say both Forrest and Conlon.

“From last year’s Year 13 groups, half or two-thirds of these students went on to study architecture, industrial or some other sort of design,” said Forrest. “Those same kids come back to me after doing their first digital fabrication class [at tertiary level], and they say, ‘Guess what we have to use? We have to use Inventor and we have to use 123D Make. We did that here with you.’”

Conlon added: “Autodesk is doing for design what Microsoft Office did for computer skills. Rather than teaching students basic word processing and spreadsheeting, it’s teaching them the world of design and engineering.

“When they get to university, and get out into the industry, they won’t be focussed on learning to use software. They’ll be focussed on quality and form of design.”

Launched on 7 August, the free access to Autodesk is targeted at secondary schools in NZ, Australia, Korea, and Japan. Accounts can be created at

Categories: Issue 57