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Implementation of a Nontraditional Spatial Skills Training Program

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Design Graphics Division Technical Session 1: Spatial Visualization

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Engineering Design Graphics

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Maxine Fontaine Stevens Institute of Technology

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Maxine Fontaine is a Teaching Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology. She received her Ph.D. in 2010 from Aalborg University in Aalborg, Denmark. Maxine has a background in the biomechanics of human movement, and she currently teaches several undergraduate courses in engineering mechanics. Her research interests are focused on improving engineering pedagogy and increasing diversity in engineering.

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Alexander John De Rosa Stevens Institute of Technology

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Alexander De Rosa is a Teaching Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology. Alex specializes in teaching in the thermal-fluid sciences and has a background in experimental combustion. He gained his PhD in 2015 from The Pennsylvania State University in this area.

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This research paper will assess the effectiveness of various approaches to building spatial skills in a remote learning environment, including the use of a sketching app and origami folding. The Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations (PSVT:R) is used to measure spatial ability before and after completion of the spatial skills training.

The importance of spatial ability in engineering is well-established and many first-year programs have been developed to help incoming students with low spatial ability build these critical skills. In our study, the spatial ability of all first year engineering students was assessed using the PSVT:R during the first week of class. A spatial skills training program was then implemented for those who scored below a threshold of 70% on the PSVT:R. Students who elected to participate in the spatial skills training program were offered two tracks, dubbed the “direct” and “indirect” approaches. The direct approach involved the use of the Spatial Vis app by eGrove Education while the indirect approach tasked students with completing origami models based on instructional diagrams. In addition to this targeted training, sketching activities that build spatial skills were also built into the graphics class for all students regardless of PSVT:R test score.

After training for 4 weeks, students were offered a midterm retake of the PSVT:R. Those that again failed to reach the threshold score of 70% were encouraged to continue with another 4 weeks of training before a final test using the PSVT:R at the end of the semester. Statistically significant increases in spatial ability were observed for students who undertook training in both the direct (n=70) and indirect (n=19) approaches. Students who did not enroll in training, but continued in the course and retook the PSVT:R (n=30) also improved their spatial ability. Similar trends were observed when broken out by gender or by initial level of spatial ability; statistically significant increases in spatial ability were observed for both female (n=55) and male (n=64) students, and for those starting out at different initial levels of spatial skill. No significant differences in the level of improvement were found between either type of training, indicating that sketching in the Spatial Vis app and folding origami are both effective methods for improving spatial ability.

Fontaine, M., & De Rosa, A. J. (2021, July), Implementation of a Nontraditional Spatial Skills Training Program Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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