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Understanding Students’ Process for Solving Engineering Problems Using Eye Gaze Data

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Student Learning, Problem Solving, & Critical Thinking 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1292.1 - 24.1292.24



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Paper Authors


Youyi Bi School of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University

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Youyi Bi is a doctoral student in the School of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University. He obtained his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and M.S. in Aerospace Manufacturing Engineering both from Beihang University, China. His research interest include decision-making and optimization in mechanical design, ergonomics and computer graphics.

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Tahira N. Reid Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Tahira N. Reid is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University and is the director of the Research in Engineering and Interdisciplinary Design (REID) Lab. Her research interests include: developing methods to enhance the design process and that support the decision-making of engineers and designers in the design process. Prior to Purdue, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Mechanical Engineering department at Iowa State working in the Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainable (IRIS) Design Lab. In 2010, she received her PhD from the University of Michigan in Design Science, with Mechanical Engineering and Psychology as her focus areas. Dr. Reid received both her BS and MS degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2000 and 2004, respectively.

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Eye Gaze Data Reveal Links in Students’ Spatial Visualization Skills and Their Process for Solving Engineering ProblemsIt is well known that the discipline of engineering is among the most challenging fields of studyto embark on. In mechanical engineering courses such as thermodynamics, statics, mechanics ofmaterials and others can be quite challenging for engineering students and have notoriouslybecome known as “weed-out courses”. Several factors can impact students’ ability to solveproblems in these courses, including the ability to visualize the abstract concepts presented tothem. Exams and homework assignments are standard tools for assessing student performanceand understanding; however, they do not always reveal the viewing strategies used by studentsduring problem solving.In the present study, we use a between-subjects experimental design to investigate therelationship between spatial visualization abilities of students and how they go about solvingstatics and mechanics of materials problems that are presented. We employ a non-invasive eye-tracker (Tobii X-60) to record participants’ eye movements during each problem solving task.The eye-mind hypothesis states that people look at what they are thinking about. Participantswere asked to solve several problems from statics and mechanics of materials, and the diagramof each problem was shown on a computer display. Data collected included: participants’fixation time, fixation counts and scan paths of the critical areas of each diagram. The data werecorrelated with students’ performance on the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test, Index ofLearning Styles Questionnaire (based on Felder-Silverman Learning Style Model) and priorperformance in related engineering courses.The results show differences between the conditions tested and provide insight on students’problem-solving strategies and difficulties. These results will give instructors new insights onstudents’ problem solving and viewing strategies and thus can apply appropriate teachingmethods for different students.

Bi, Y., & Reid, T. N. (2014, June), Understanding Students’ Process for Solving Engineering Problems Using Eye Gaze Data Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23225

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