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An Analysis of First-Year Engineering Majors' Spatial Skill

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Student-led Research on Engineering Education - Quantitative Methodologies

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Jaclyn Kuspiel Murray University of Georgia Orcid 16x16

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Jaclyn Kuspiel Murray is currently a research scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology in the department of biomedical engineering. In May of 2016 she graduated with a doctorate of philosophy in science education from The University of Georgia. She earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and a master of science in biomedical engineering from The University of Tennessee Health Science Center and The University of Memphis. After a brief career in biomedical engineering, she taught high school physics in the public school system. She continues to be an active member of the AP Physics community.
Her research interests include engineering student spatial and creative development, the nature of engineering, engineering learning environments, and engineering student motivation.

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An Analysis of First Year Engineering Majors’ Spatial Skill

Spatial knowledge is associated with success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) (Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009). Spatial knowledge, as defined here, results from both an inherent spatial ability and practiced spatial skills. Uttal et al. (2013) suggests an expanded interest in, and in turn, enlarged participation in STEM fields is possible due to increases in spatial knowledge as a result of spatial skills training.

This quantitative study aims to investigate the spatial knowledge of incoming proposed engineering majors at a large southeastern university. The participants are enrolled in a new college of engineering; the institution upgraded its status from a department of engineering three years ago. Three semesters of data were collected in an engineering computer-aided design class.

The tests utilized in this investigation were card rotations (CR), cube comparison (CC), form board (FB), paper folding (PF) and surface development (SD) (Ekstrom, French, Harman, & Derman, 1976), the Revised Purdue Spatial Visualization Tests: Visualization of Rotations (Revised PSVT:R) (Yoon, 2011), and Spatial Orientation Test (SO) (Kozhevnikov & Hegarty, 2001). Five or six spatial assessments were given to 423 participants over three semesters. During the first two semesters the same set of tests were used to assess all participants (CR, CC, FB, PF, and SD). The third semester differed, with the addition of two tests (Revised PSVT:R) and removal of another (CR).

The first two exams focused on spatial relations and the next three on visualization. Spatial relations is defined as a simple one-step mental rotation. Visualization combines mental rotation with other serial manipulations; it is a higher order spatial ability than spatial relations.

The Revised PSVT:R is also considered a test of visualization, however it combines multiple rotations and revolution. Often used by the engineering community to require further spatial skill development within weak spatial students (Sorby & Baartmans, 2000), this investigation compares other tests of spatial knowledge to the PSVT:R. In addition, SO was examined to establish if the participant sample demonstrated a dissociation between spatial visualization and perspective taking skills as suggested by Hegarty and Waller (2004). SO is a skill associated with navigation; moving object and/or frame of reference perceived from different viewpoints.

A Man-Whitney U Test was used, because the data was not normally distributed, to analyze differences between each test and gender. Internal consistency was measured by Cronbach’s alpha and are as follows: CR-.997, CC-.85, FB-.91, PF-.83, SD-.93, Revised PSVT:R-.89, and SO-.87. Significant differences between gender were found on the Revised PSVT:R (p = .0037) with an effect size of .62 (Cohen’s d) and SO (p = .0447) of effect size .38. The effect size as reported by a meta-analysis (Maeda & Yoon, 2013) was .57 for the Revised PSVT:R.

In addition a Spearman’s Correlation Matrix was created to determine the correlation and significance, separately by gender. Males and females differed by correlation magnitude and significance level for each comparison except for SD and P.

Murray, J. K. (2016, June), An Analysis of First-Year Engineering Majors' Spatial Skill Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26562

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