Asee peer logo

An exploratory study of students’ approaches to generating, maintaining and communicating visual-mental images

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Visualization tools and uses in graphics

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.169.1 - 23.169.13



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Thomas Delahunty University of Limerick

author page

Niall Seery University of Limerick Orcid 16x16

author page

Raymond Lynch Dr. University of Limerick


Diarmaid Lane University of Limerick

visit author page

Dr. Diarmaid Lane received his B.Tech. in Education and Ph.D. in Technology Education from the University of Limerick in 2008 and 2011, respectively. He spent six years in the metal fabrication industry developing engineering craft based skills prior to pursuing his studies in technology education. He currently holds a faculty position at the University of Limerick where he teaches engineering graphics courses to undergraduate and postgraduate students of initial teacher education. He was the program chair for the 67th MidYear Engineering Design Graphics Division (EDGD) Conference in Limerick, Ireland in 2012. He has been awarded the EDGD Chair’s Award in 2010 and 2011 in addition to the prestigious Oppenheimer Award in 2012. His research interests are in the development of spatial cognition through freehand sketching.

visit author page

Download Paper |


An investigation of students’ approaches to building, manipulating and representing visual-mental imagesThe ability to synthesise and manipulate graphical information is a core cognitive aptitudewithin design and technology education. Visual-mental images are crucial to the designprocess and the ability to manipulate and communicate perceptual and conceptualinformation graphically often leads to creative discovery and aids mental synthesis. Therepresentation of these mental images using physical media allows students to refine theircognitive processing and solve abstract problems. Graphical education in _______________,supports the development of these ‘concept driven competencies’1 through the study of planeand descriptive geometry and through engagement with design problems.Previous research by Delahunty et al.2 has highlighted a worrying issue of mechanisticconditioning within graphical education in Ireland. This conditioning may be occurringwithin the teaching and learning process as a result of external influences such asexamination requirements. The effects of such conditioning may restrict students’ ability toutilise a wider variety of visuo-spatial processes such as the ability to build and representvisual-mental images, which are critical for creative problem solving and design solutions.This research used a case study approach where students participating in a graphicaleducation module at the ________________ were tasked with building and representingvisual-mental images. The task involved the building of mental images of regulargeometrical configurations and subsequent communication this by means of a graphicalsketches. Solutions were collected and analysed with the objective of determining the fluencyof communication of the visual-mental image.Analysis of the qualitative data highlighted a number of interesting findings. The geometricconfigurations, which students were required to observe and build a visual-mental image of,were originally presented to participants in a random orientation. However, the solutionspresented by the majority of participants, were represented using standard engineeringprojection systems such as isometric, diametric and trimetric projection. This highlights anissue with students’ ability to fluidly build and manipulate regular geometry as a visual-mental image and to then graphically present them in the orientation provided.The findings illustrate a possible conditioned approach to building and representing visual-mental images. Students may have become predominately conditioned by overly technicalapproaches to graphical instruction resulting in difficulty within visuo-spatial cognition. Thisconditioning may have the overall effect of negating students’ ability to synthesise,manipulate and communicate both perceptual and conceptual graphical information. Thesefindings raise a number of questions relating to the style of cognitive activity that students areengaging in as part of contemporary graphical education in Ireland.

Delahunty, T., & Seery, N., & Lynch, R., & Lane, D. (2013, June), An exploratory study of students’ approaches to generating, maintaining and communicating visual-mental images Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19183

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015