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Are The Visualization Skills Of First Year Engineering Students Changing?

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Spatial Ability and Visualization in Graphics Education

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.190.1 - 15.190.11



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Paper Authors

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Sheryl Sorby Michigan Technological University


Norma Veurink Michigan Technological University

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Norma L. Veurink is a Senior Lecturer in the Engineering Fundamentals Department at Michigan Technological University. Veurink is an active member in the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Engineering Design Graphics Division of ASEE. Her research interests include spatial visualization and engineering education. Veurink worked in the field of on-site wastewater treatment prior to teaching at Michigan Tech.

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

Are the Visualization Skills of First-year Engineering Students Changing?


Michigan Tech has been offering a course in the development of 3-D spatial skills since 1993. Each year since that time, engineering students have been tested with a standardized instrument during orientation and those who failed have been counseled to enroll in the spatial skills course. Instruments regarding student background experience have also been periodically administered. In this study, historical data was examined to determine if there were changes in test results through the years. The items of interest in this study were: changes in the average score on the spatial skills instrument through time, changes in failure rates on the pre-test, the impact of computer games on spatial skills development, gender differences in scores and failure rates through time, and changes in background variables through time. Data trends in this study will inform us regarding changing student backgrounds and will indicate whether the need for a spatial skills intervention course is increasing or decreasing.


Spatial skills have been shown to be important to success in many technical fields and have been found to be particularly important to success in engineering graphics. In a study conducted by Gimmestad1, a student’s score on the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations (PSVT:R) was shown to be the most significant predictor of success of eleven variables tested. In this study, PSVT:R pre-test scores and other variables of interest were correlated with final scores in an engineering graphics course. Variables that were not correlated with success in engineering graphics included component scores on the ACT (math, verbal, science, and composite). When the variable of play with construction toys was combined with the variable of previous experience in drafting or shop courses, a marginally significant factor was obtained.

In various studies conducted through the years, many background factors have been shown to be correlated with well-developed spatial ability. Although each study has produced slightly different results, it seems that activities that require eye-to-hand coordination are those that help to develop these skills. Activities that have been found to develop spatial skills include: 1) playing with construction toys as a young child, 2) participating in classes such as shop, drafting, or mechanics as a middle school or secondary student, 3) playing 3-dimensional computer games, 4) participating in some types of sports, and 5) having well-developed mathematical skills.

In recent studies, the role of computer games, particularly those with 3-D simulations, have been examined for their impact on the development of spatial skills. Terlecki and Newcombe2 conducted a study with students enrolled in an undergraduate psychology course. They administered a Survey of Spatial Representation and Activities (SRRA) to 1300 students of diverse ethnicities and majors (engineering students made up less that 1% of those tested). Those students who scored high on the SRRA, signifying that they

Sorby, S., & Veurink, N. (2010, June), Are The Visualization Skills Of First Year Engineering Students Changing? Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16026

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