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Teaching Spatial Skills Online During a Global Pandemic

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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

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

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Paper Authors


Melissa C. Richards Clarkson University

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Dr. Melissa C. Richards is an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Horizons Programs and Robotics Outreach Program for the Institute for STEM Education at Clarkson University. Trained in problem and project-based STEM education, she believes in a holistic approach to education to provide students with tools that foster growth and balance in every aspect of their lives. Using this approach, she has developed and implemented hands-on STEM projects and K-12 and higher education outreach activities. Richards has also taught various post-secondary courses ranging from Spatial Thinking Skills to Advanced Thermodynamics. She was awarded an American Association for University Women (AAUW) American Fellowship in 2017 for her passion and dedication to the empowerment of young people through K-12 outreach and STEM education.

Dr. Richards holds an Associate of Science in Engineering Science from Nassau Community College, a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics, and a Master of Science and Doctorate of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering all from Clarkson University. Her research interests are in theoretical rock mechanics and STEM education.

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Norma L. Veurink Michigan Technological University

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Norma Veurink is a Senior Lecturer in the Engineering Fundamentals Department at Michigan Technological University where she teaches introductory engineering courses and a spatial visualization course designed for engineering students with poorly developed spatial visualization skills. Ms. Veurink manages several summer programs that introduce middle and high school students to engineering. She is active in the Engineering Design Graphics Division of ASEE.

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Sheryl A. Sorby University of Cincinnati

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Dr. Sheryl Sorby is currently a Professor of Engineering Education at the University of Cincinnati and was recently a Fulbright Scholar at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin, Ireland. She is a professor emerita of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University and the P.I. or co-P.I. on more than $14M in grant funding, most for educational projects. She is the former Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech and she served at the National Science Foundation as a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education from January 2007 through August 2009. Prior to her appointment as Associate Dean, Dr. Sorby served as chair of the Engineering Fundamentals Department at Michigan Tech. She received a B.S. in Civil Engineering, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, all from Michigan Tech. Dr. Sorby has a well-established research program in spatial visualization and is actively involved in the development of various other educational programs.

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Numerous studies have shown the importance of spatial skills to engineering success, particularly in engineering graphics courses. Sorby and others developed an intervention consisting of software and a workbook in the 1990s aimed at improving spatial skills for engineering students. Implementation of the intervention has been shown to improve: spatial skills, grades in introductory STEM courses, and retention/graduation rates for first-year engineering students.

In response to the global pandemic, course materials have been revised to facilitate remote learning. Resources for each module include video mini-lectures, online software, and Getting Started videos that show the basics in sketching and other topics. The original workbook includes multiple-choice, matching, and fill-in-the-blank questions as well as sketching exercises. Previous research shows the importance of sketching in developing spatial skills. Partially in response to the pandemic, the fixed choice (multiple-choice, matching, etc.) questions in the workbook were converted to Canvas quizzes, and a new workbook was developed with only the sketching content from the original workbook. In addition, sketching problems were created for modules that didn’t have those previously, and practice problems were created for difficult topics. The practice problems included solutions and examples of common student mistakes.

This paper describes instructor experiences in teaching with the new materials. Student comments, gain scores on the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations, and samples of student work are also highlighted in the paper. Recommendations for the future of spatial skills instruction using these new resources in a non-Covid world are also included in the paper.

Richards, M. C., & Veurink, N. L., & Sorby, S. A. (2021, July), Teaching Spatial Skills Online During a Global Pandemic Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37821

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