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Spatial Abilities And Their Relationship To Computer Aided Design Instruction

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.465.1 - 4.465.6

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Sheryl A. Sorby

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

Session 1438

Spatial Abilities and their Relationship to Computer Aided Design Instruction

Sheryl A. Sorby Civil and Environmental Engineering Michigan Technological University Houghton, Michigan


Improving spatial visualization skills is often cited as an educational goal of engineering design graphics instruction. Many engineering design graphics faculty contend that working with 3- dimensional solid modeling software enhances the spatial abilities of their students. However, recent studies conducted at Michigan Technological University (MTU) indicate that merely work- ing with 3-D software does not improve the spatial abilities of students by a significant amount when compared to the gains achieved by activities associated with traditional graphics instruction (i.e., sketching, orthographic projection, isometric drawing, etc.). In the fall of 1998 a study was conducted at MTU to ascertain whether a student’s level of spatial ability is related to their ability to learn and use 3-D solid modeling software and/or 2-dimensional drafting software. In this study, students were administered three different tests designed to assess their level of spatial abil- ity at the beginning of a computer aided drafting and design course. A questionnaire was devel- oped to assess their level of ability in utilizing both the 3-D solid modeling software as well as a 2-D drafting package. Students turned in a copy of the completed questionnaire along with each homework assignment for the course. Correlation analyses were performed to determine if a per- son’s spatial skill level was an indicator of his/her ability to effectively use either of the software packages utilized in the course. The findings from this study are presented in this paper.


In a research study conducted at MTU 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 as well as traditional techniques like sketching [1]. In this study, students in various courses at MTU were administered spatial testing instruments as both pre- and post-tests. The tests that were adminis- tered include the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations (PSVT:R) [2], the Mental Cutting Test (MCT) [3], and the Mental Rotation Test (MRT) [4]. Two of the courses in this study were essentially computer aided design courses with an almost exclusive emphasis on 3-D modeling using I-DEAS software. In the remaining two courses sketching and/or hand drawing was the pri- mary emphasis of the course work--one course focused on engineering graphics (EG) and the other course consisted of work in both descriptive geometry and engineering graphics (DG and EG). It should be noted that in the EG course many students with previous drafting experience were able to receive placement credit for the course, thus lowering the mean test scores for the

Sorby, S. A. (1999, June), Spatial Abilities And Their Relationship To Computer Aided Design Instruction Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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