Asee peer logo

The Role of Spatial-Visual Skills in a Project-Based Engineering Design Course

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Design Communications & Cognition I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1501.1 - 22.1501.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Tiffany Tseng Stanford University

visit author page

Tiffany Tseng is a second year mechanical engineering graduate student at Stanford University with research interests in design and engineering education. She received her B.S. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009.

visit author page


Maria Yang Massachusetts Institute of Technology

visit author page

Dr. Yang's research interest is in the process of designing products and systems, particularly in the early phases of the design cycle. Dr. Yang earned her S.B. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University's Mechanical Engineering Department, Design Division under an NSF Graduate Fellowship. More recently, she was an Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California, and before that a postdoctoral instructor of design in the mechanical engineering department of the California Institute of Technology. She has been a lecturer in design at Stanford University. She is the 2006 recipient of an NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. Dr. Yang’s industrial experience includes serving as Director of Design at Reactivity, a Silicon Valley software company now a part of Cisco Systems. She has done research into collaborative design tools at Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group and Lockheed Artificial Intelligence Center. In addition, she has explored the user interaction issues for software design, as well as ergonomics issues of force-feedback devices for Immersion Corporation.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The Role of Spatial-Visual Skills in a Project-Based Engineering Design CourseAlthough spatial-visual skills have been found to be a strong predictor of success in and aptitudefor engineering practice and related technical fields, comparatively little research has beenconducted on its function in engineering coursework, particularly engineering design.Understanding how spatial ability may influence student design work can help educators realizeopportunities to hone students’ spatial-visual skills, especially female students who historicallyscore lower than their male peers on spatial-visual assessments.The purpose of this study was to examine the role of spatial-visual skills in a core undergraduatemechanical engineering design course requiring each student to design and build a robot toaccomplish a complex task. The researchers hypothesized that students with higher spatialabilities would produce more complex designs; as spatial abilities are associated withunderstanding how physical objects can be assembled, students with high spatial ability may bebetter able to understand and design intricate integrated systems. 137 students (79 male, 58female) were administered the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test at the start of the course, andthese results were analyzed with self-assessments of their experience in tasks associated withspatial skills (such as origami and sketching), the complexity of their produced robot, and theirrobots’ performance in the culminating class competition.Similar to prior work, gender differences in scores on the spatial visualization test werestatistically significant. Spatial reasoning and origami experience were positively correlated formale students tested. For all students, the correlation between spatial test score and thepercentage of moving components in a design was found to approach significance with anegative correlation. Spatial test scores did not seem to affect competition performance.However, although not statistically significant, the total number of components and percentageof moving components for a design were negatively correlated with students’ scores in seedingrounds of the competition. These results suggest that while strong spatial-visual abilities maynot directly impact competition performance, they may be used to simplify engineering designrather than increase its complexity.

Tseng, T., & Yang, M. (2011, June), The Role of Spatial-Visual Skills in a Project-Based Engineering Design Course Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18466

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015