Title page for ETD etd-04082012-102021

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Steinhauer, Heidi Marie
URN etd-04082012-102021
Title Assessment of First-Year Engineering Students' Spatial Visualization Skills
Degree PhD
Department Engineering Education
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
McNair, Elizabeth D. Committee Chair
Borrego, Maura Jenkins Committee Member
Goff, Richard M. Committee Member
Pedersen, David Committee Member
  • pedagogy
  • engineering graphics
  • assessment
  • spatial visualization
  • Concept inventory
Date of Defense 2012-03-30
Availability restricted
This research was undertaken to investigate the assessment of the spatial visualization skills of first-year engineering students. This research was conducted through three approaches: (1) a review of cogent research framed by a spatial visualization matrix, (2) the development and validation of an Engineering Graphics Concept Inventory, and (3) an investigation into the relationship into the correlations between 3D modeling skills and performance on the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations (PSVT:R) and the Mental Cutting Test (MCT).

The literature reviewed spans the field of published research from the early 1930’s to the present. This review expands and provides a new direction on published research as it is viewed through the lenses of the four common pedagogical approaches to teaching spatial visualization: the standard approach, the remedial approach, computer-aided design, and the theory-informed approach. A spatial visualization matrix of criteria was developed to evaluate each of the methods. The four principle criteria included: learning outcomes, active and engaged learning, stage of knowledge, and explanatory power. Key findings from the literature review indicate the standard method is not the most effective method to teaching spatial visualization while the theory-informed method as evaluated by the matrix is the most effective pedagogical approach of the four methods evaluated.

The next phase of this research focused on the two-year development, validation, and reliability of an Engineering Graphics Concept Inventory given to over 1300 participants from three universities. A Delphi method was used to determine the key concepts identified by the expert panel to be included in the inventory. A student panel of 20 participants participated in the pilot study of “think aloud” protocols to refine inventory test items and to generate the appropriate distractors. Multiple pilot studies coupled with a detailed psychometric analysis provided the feedback and direction needed for the adjustment of test items. The reported Cronbach’s α for the final instrument is .73, which is within the acceptable range. The inventory is ready to be implemented and the predictability of the instrument, in reference to students’ spatial visualization skills, to be researched.

The final chapter of this research was a correlational study of the relationship between first-year engineering student’s 3D modeling frameworks and their performance on the PSVT:R and the MCT. 3D modeling presence in graphical communications has steadily increased over the last 15 years; however there has been little research on the correlations between the standard visualization tests and 3D modeling. 220 first-year engineering students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University participated in the study in the fall of 2011. The main findings from this research indicate there is no significant correlational relationship between the PSVT:R and a student’s 3D modeling ability, but there is one for the MCT. The significant correlational factors reported for the MCT and modeling aptitude for the three assignments are: r = .32 (p < 0.05), .36 (p< 0.01), and .47 (p< 0.01). These findings may be used by undergraduate educators and course administrators to more effectively organize engineering graphics education to yield students with deeper, more meaningful knowledge about engineering graphics and its inherent connection throughout the engineering curriculum.

Together these three studies represent a sequential exploratory mixed methods approach that intertwines qualitative interviews and observations to frame the quantitative instrument and data collection. Results of this study can be used to guide the assessment of incoming freshmen engineering students, and the modification and development of engineering graphics courses.

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