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A Study of an Augmented Reality App for the Development of Spatial Reasoning Ability

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Design Graphics Division Technical Session 3 - Spatial Visualization Topics

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Engineering Design Graphics

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Paper Authors


John E. Bell Michigan State University

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JOHN BELL Professor, Educational Technology, College of Education. John Bell earned his B.S. in Computer Science from Michigan State University, and then his M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. His research considered various user interfaces for human-computer interaction among users with a wide range of technology skills. Bell later completed a post doc at UC Berkeley focused on teaching programming to non-computer science majors, and the development of spatial reasoning abilities for engineering students. Bell has worked at Michigan State University since 1995. His work focused on the development of K-12 teacher abilities to use technology for teaching and learning. His recent research has focused on distance learning and collaboration through telepresence. One key aspect of this work is the study of embodied content for learning and collaboration. Embodied content includes collaborative textual environments as well as augmented/mixed reality. Other research includes idea-centered teaching and learning.

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Tommy Lister Michigan State University

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Srishti Banerji


Timothy J. Hinds Michigan State University

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TIMOTHY J. HINDS is the Director of the Michigan State University First-Year Engineering CoRe (Cornerstone Engineering and Residential) Experience program. His administrative responsibilities include management of the 1600-student first-year combined academic and co-curricular program. His teaching includes development, delivery and management of CoRe Experience courses in engineering design, modeling/computation and spatial visualization. He has also taught courses in machine design, manufacturing processes, mechanics, computational tools and international product design as well as graduate-level courses in engineering innovation and technology management. He has conducted research in the areas of environmentally-responsible manufacturing, globally-distributed engineering teaming and early engineering education development and has over 30 years of combined academic and industrial management experience. He received his BSME and MSME degrees from Michigan Technological University.

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Spatial ability has been reported to be an important predictor for student success in STEM fields. Accordingly, various studies have looked at multiple strategies to help students develop these skills.

This study builds on prior work testing the use of augmented reality on smartphones for developing spatial reasoning in the context of a spatial reasoning skills course. The mobile AR app gives students the ability to view, interact with, and maneuver digital three-dimensional objects by pointing their phones at a printed marker. They can either move their phones around the marker, or they can move the markers, in order to view the objects from multiple perspectives. They can manipulate the objects via commands within the app, such as rotations and folding. Various games are implemented in the app to support the development of mental rotation abilities. In addition, various strategies of gamification are employed to increase engagement, including anonymous screen name rankings and bonus points for additional progress and practice within the app. These features are designed to encourage increased meaningful time in the app through progression and competition.

Seventy-two first-year pre-engineering students at a major Midwestern university who performed poorly on the PSVT:R spatial abilities test took a class designed to improve their spatial abilities. To test the effects of this app, these students were invited to participate in a research study. The seventy students who agreed to participate were split into control and experimental groups. The experimental group had the opportunity to work with this app in the context of a course designed to develop their spatial reasoning abilities. They were compared with the students who took the same course minus the augmented reality app. Both sets of students experienced traditional means for teaching spatial reasoning.

Multiple measures were compared for these groups of students. In particular, we compared: * Performance on the PSVT:R spatial abilities test (pre and post) * Student attitudes, including their confidence and enjoyment of spatial abilities tasks * Student comments in follow-up focus groups

For those students who were in the experimental condition, we also analyzed: * Performance on the Vandenberg mental rotation assessment (pre and post) * Performance in in-app activities and repeated achievement measures

The results of this study demonstrate the efficacy of using the augmented reality app in conjunction with traditional classroom activities for developing spatial reasoning abilities.

Bell, J. E., & Lister, T., & Banerji, S., & Hinds, T. J. (2019, June), A Study of an Augmented Reality App for the Development of Spatial Reasoning Ability Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32001

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