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Spatial Skills Development of Engineering Students: Identifying Instructional Tools to Incorporate into Existing Curricula

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Technical Session 6: Hands-on Projects and Spatial Skills

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1389.1 - 26.1389.11



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Paper Authors


Diana Bairaktarova University of Oklahoma

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Dr. Diana Bairaktarova is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Practice in the College of Engineering at University of Oklahoma. Through real-world engineering applications, Dr. Bairaktarova’s experiential learning research spans from engineering to psychology to learning sciences, as she uncovers how individual performance is influenced by aptitudes, spatial skills, personal interests and direct manipulation of mechanical objects.

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Matthew Reyes University of Oklahoma Orcid 16x16

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Matthew received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M University. After working for several years in the construction industry both in the field and in management, he joined the Construction Science faculty at the University of Oklahoma in 2012. His research interests include earthen construction, construction safety, and the Latino workforce in construction. He is also interested in investigating ways to teach students to improve their spatial skills and abilities.

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Nooshin Nassr P.E. University of Oklahoma

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Nooshin Nassr received her Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in May 2005 from Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. She is currently a PhD student in the School of Engineering at The University of Oklahoma. Her passion for engineering education stems from her basic curiosity to develop more effective engineering curriculum to help students to meet their professional demands. This motivated her to take part in engineering education research.

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Dan Thomas Carlton University of Oklahoma, College of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

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Dan Carlton is pursuing his Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Oklahoma, where he is expected to graduate in 2016. He is a Midshipman in the Naval ROTC unit at the University of Oklahoma, and is involved in undergraduate fellowship program sponsored by NASA and the Oklahoma Geospatial and Space Grant Consortium. In the summer of 2014 Daniel served as a delegate for the German-American Chamber of Commerce as a part of the Transatlantic Program for Young Technology Leaders Aerospace Delegation

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Spatial Skills Development of Engineering Students: Identifying Instructional Tools to Incorporate into Existing CurriculaSpatial thinking refers to the ability to create and hold an object in the mind’s eye and manipulatethat object via sectional cuts, three dimensional rotations, and other mental operations. Spatialskills are of great importance for problem solving in everyday life and research has shown a directcorrelation between having good spatial skills and achieving success in engineering disciplines.With the demonstrated importance of these skills and evidence that they can be learned, it is criticalthat educators incorporate instructional tools that are designed to enhance these skills. Literaturesuggest that students differ in their development of spatial skills and this difference affects studentperformance on some spatial tasks. Additionally, lower performance on engineering tasksinvolving spatial skills are observed in under-represented groups including women.In this study we first identify life experiences that predict an individual’s level of spatial skills.Things such as hobbies, activities, and work experience are analyzed for predictive power alongwith motivational factors such as perceived instrumentality and self-efficacy beliefs. The secondobjective is to determine the correlation between spatial skills and academic and professionalachievement.We collected data from four groups at different levels of their studies and lives: first yearengineering students, first year non engineering major students, graduate engineering students, andpracticing engineers. The study was conducted at a large Midwest university in the Fall 2014semester. Our study consists of eighty participants: 20 engineering students, 20 non-engineeringmajor students, 20 graduate engineering students, and 20 practicing engineers from localcompanies. We hypothesized that based on the curriculum and work experiences, experts(professionals, and graduate students) would have higher spatial skills than the freshmanengineering students. We also hypothesized that the freshman engineering students will havehigher spatial skills comparing to their non-engineering major peers. To measure the cognitiveportion regarding students’ spatial reasoning skills, participants completed the Revised PurdueSpatial Visualization Tests: Visualization of Rotations (PSVT:R). To measure the affectiveportion, all participants completed a survey with some demographic items, motivation items, andquestions about childhood and life experiences.We are currently analyzing the data and plan on reporting the findings in the full paper. We trustour study will inform engineering education community in two ways: 1). Gaining a deeperinsight on the intrinsic relationships between spatial thinking and engineering. 2). Findings fromthis study can lead to clues on how to integrate elements of spatial thinking with engineeringconcepts and incorporating teaching spatial skills with courses in the existing pre-engineeringand engineering curriculum.

Bairaktarova, D., & Reyes, M., & Nassr, N., & Carlton, D. T. (2015, June), Spatial Skills Development of Engineering Students: Identifying Instructional Tools to Incorporate into Existing Curricula Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24726

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