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Spatial Ability Instrument Ceiling Effect and Implications

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Assessment II: Learning Gains and Conceptual Understanding

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Benjamin James Call Utah State University

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Benjamin Call graduated with his Masters of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (Aerospace Emphasis) in 2006 from Utah State University. After eight years with NAVAIR, he has returned to pursue a PhD in Engineering Education. He is funded by the Presidential Doctoral Research Fellowship. His research interests range from sophomore-level engineering curricula to spatial ability and creativity to student entrepreneurship.

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Wade H Goodridge Utah State University

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Wade Goodridge, Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Technology Education at Utah State University, has taught Solid Modeling, CAD, Introductory Electronics, Surveying, Statics, teaching and Learning, Assessment and Evaluation, and Introductory Engineering courses at Utah State University. Goodridge has been teaching for the Utah State College of Engineering for more than 15 years. He holds dual B.S degrees in industrial technology education and civil engineering from Utah State University, as well as an M.S. and Ph.D. in civil engineering from Utah State University. His research interests include spatial thinking/spatial ability at a course specific level in engineering, conceptual and procedural knowledge interplay in novice engineering students, and entrepreneurship.

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Thayne L Sweeten Ph.D. Utah State University

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Thayne Sweeten earned a Ph.D. in Medical Neurobiology and Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis. He teaches biology courses for Utah State University and publishes research in pedagogy and the etiology of autism and related disorders focusing on immune mechanisms.

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This research paper investigates the potential existence of and implications for a ceiling effect observed in sophomore engineering students' spatial ability scores when using a common spatial ability instrument. Repeated use of the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Visualization of Rotations (PSVT:R) – shown herein over the course of two semesters – has revealed potential limitations when using the assessment with undergraduate engineering students during their sophomore year. The correlation between spatial ability and academic performance in engineering education has been thoroughly established. The PSVT:R and its revision are commonly used in academic spatial ability research. However, with the observed high average performance typical of engineering students on the PSVT:R, a ceiling effect may pose limitations to its utility. Sophomore engineering students in a Statics class - the first class in the Engineering Mechanics series - were each given the PSVT:R and Mental Cutting Test (MCT) assessments twice per semester. Results showing that the MCT may be more capable of differentiating student abilities, despite having a lower possible maximum score, are presented. Scores from similarly aged students in an Anatomy class are provided for comparison. The impact of ceiling effects for the education of high-performing populations, such as Engineering Mechanics students, will be discussed and actions for improvements in spatial ability measurement will be proposed. An argument is also put forth to understand how these tests relate to students' engineering capabilities.

Call, B. J., & Goodridge, W. H., & Sweeten, T. L. (2016, June), Spatial Ability Instrument Ceiling Effect and Implications Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25849

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