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Do Spatial Abilities Impact The Learning Of 3 D Solid Modeling Software?

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.493.1 - 11.493.9



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Paper Authors


Amy Hamlin Michigan Technological University

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Amy Hamlin is a lecturer in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at Michigan Technological University where she earned a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering. She is currently teaching a Spatial Visualization course as well as first year engineering courses.

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Sheryl Sorby Michigan Technological University

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Sheryl A. Sorby is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University. Sorby is active in the American Society for Engineering Education and the American Society of Civil Engineers. She is a past chair of the Engineering Design Graphics Division of ASEE. She was a recipient of the Dow Outstanding New Faculty award and the Distinguished Teaching award, both from the North Midwest Section of ASEE. Her research interests include spatial visualization and computer aided design. She was recently awarded WEPAN’s Betty Vetter Award for research on women in engineering

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Norma Boersma Michigan Technological University

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Norma L. Boersma is a Lecturer in the Engineering Fundamentals Department at Michigan Technological University. Boersma is an active member in the American Society for Engineering Education and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Her research interests include spatial visualization and engineering education. Boersma 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

Do Spatial Abilities Impact the Learning of 3-D Solid Modeling Software?

Abstract With the prolific use of 3-D solid modeling packages, should engineering graphics courses designed to improve spatial visualization skills continue to be an important foundation topic in engineering education? Does a person’s spatial ability influence their ability to learn and use 3- D solid modeling packages? In the fall of 2005, a study was undertaken at Michigan Technological University to answer these questions. Two different tests were administered at the beginning of an introductory engineering course to determine the students’ level of spatial ability: the Purdue Spatial Visualizations Test: Rotations and the Mental Cutting Test. In the introductory engineering course, students receive five class periods of instruction in engineering graphics (isometric sketching, orthographic projection, rotations, and other topics) and three class periods of instruction in a 3-D solid modeling package. Some of the students received instruction in engineering graphics before learning 3-D modeling software, and some after. Upon completion of the 3-D solid modeling module, students filled out a questionnaire to assess their ease of learning and using the modeling software. The questionnaire was related to a common assignment and asked students to track the amount of time they spent completing the assignment, how much help they needed, and how difficult they found the assignment to be. Students were also asked to compare their ability to use the software and their ease in learning the software with their teammates’. Correlation analyses were performed to determine if a person’s spatial ability is correlated to his/her ability to effectively learn to use the 3-D solid modeling package and to determine if spatial visualization instruction prior to 3-D modeling instruction improves student success with learning the modeling package. The findings from this study are presented in this paper.

Introduction In a research study conducted at Michigan Technological University in 1997, it was shown that the mere act of working with 3-D computer models in a solid modeling environment does not develop visualization skills 1. A 1994 study by Norman 2 found that a person’s spatial visualization skills were the most significant predictor of a person’s success in interacting with a computer interface to perform database operations. A 1999 study by Sorby 3 found little correlation between spatial abilities and the ability to work with 2-D drafting software, but found an apparent correlation between spatial abilities and the ability to interact with a computer in a 3- D modeling environment. However, in that previous study there were some potential errors in data-gathering and in survey instrument design. Further, at the time, graphics at Michigan Tech was taught as a stand-alone course whereas it is now taught so that it is integrated with other topics. Between 1999 and the present, the 3-D graphics package used at Michigan Tech has also changed from I-DEAS to Unigraphics UGNX3. For these reasons and to determine if the results were repeatable, it was decided to conduct a modified study on 3-D spatial skills and their relationship to learning 3-D modeling software under the new system.

Present Study To assess the influence a person’s spatial ability has on their ability to learn and use a 3-D solid modeling package, a study was undertaken at Michigan Tech in the fall of 2005. This study

Hamlin, A., & Sorby, S., & Boersma, N. (2006, June), Do Spatial Abilities Impact The Learning Of 3 D Solid Modeling Software? Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1272

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