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A Study Of The Impact Of Visuospatial Ability, Conceptual Understanding, And Prior Knowledge Upon Student Performance In Engineering Statics Courses

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Statics and Dynamics: What's New

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.119.1 - 14.119.10



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Paper Authors

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Edward Anderson Texas Tech

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Roman Taraban Texas Tech

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Diana Hudson Texas Tech

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Study of the Impact of Visuospatial Ability, Conceptual Understanding, and Prior Knowledge upon Student Performance in Engineering Statics Courses


Many factors influence the performance of students in their typical first exposure to engineering cirricula, Engineering Statics. An in-depth understanding of these factors is tantamount to successful pedagogue and curriculum design to meet the goals of the engineer of 2020. This study examines the correlation between four factors, visuospatial ability, conceptual understanding, prior knowledge, and student course performance as measured by prerequisite course grades, course grade, and conceptual knowledge gain. Statistical correlation and hierarchical analysis were applied to the results of the Paper Folding Test (PFT), Card Rotations Test (CRT), pre- and post-Statics Concept Inventory (SCI) tests, admission test scores, and prerequisite course grades to examine these relationships. Although many factors influence student success in an Introduction to Engineering Statics course, their understanding of underlying concepts, knowledge from previous courses, and ability to visualize forces and bodies are certainly significant for success. Conceptual understanding is strongly related to the transfer of knowledge (National Research Council1). Stief and Hansen2 measured a strong correlation between SCI scores and performance on course examinations as well as course grades. They also found that the more abstract concepts of Free- Body Diagrams, Equilibrium, and Static Equivalence discriminated high-performance students from low-performance students.

In addition to knowledge gained in a statics course, transfer of knowledge from other domains such as mathematics and physics would appear to be important to the success of a student in view of the prerequisites for entry into a typical Engineering Statics course. On the other hand, little sophisticated knowledge, other than trigonometry and algebra, is required if the course does not incorporate first and second moments of mass, areas, volumes, etc., thus it is not clear at the present time how important success in prerequisite courses is for success in statics.

Sorby3 and others have found that 3-D spatial skills are critical to success in engineering. Specifically, visuospatial ability would appear to be an important component for statics performance given that people are required to visualize forces and movements from stationary figures. Prior researchers using standardized tests of spatial ability found that visuospatial ability and conceptual knowledge, among other variables, predicted performance on statics problems (Higley, Litzinger, Van Meter, Masters, & Kulikowich4).

Description of Statics Concepts Inventory Instrument:

As described by Stief and Dantzler5, The SCI test consists of 27 questions that cover the basic concepts of an introductory Statics course. These concepts (and number of questions) are: free- body diagrams (5), static equivalence (3), forces at connections (12), friction limit (3), and equilibrium (4). Free-body diagram questions focus upon representing parts of a system without the complications of force directions or equilibrium considerations. Static equivalence questions

Anderson, E., & Taraban, R., & Hudson, D. (2009, June), A Study Of The Impact Of Visuospatial Ability, Conceptual Understanding, And Prior Knowledge Upon Student Performance In Engineering Statics Courses Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5364

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