2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 2:45 PM


TITUS, Sarah, HORSMAN, Eric, GOODWIN, Laurel and TIKOFF, Basil, Dept. of Geology & Geophysics, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, stitus@geology.wisc.edu

Three-dimensional visualization is an extremely important skill in many branches of sciences and mathematics including geology. Research has shown that spatial visualization can be broken into a series of component skills and furthermore, practice with these skills can improve all students' spatial visualization abilities. With this in mind, we designed a set of instructional materials to give students practice with different types of spatial visualization problems. We implemented these materials in both introductory and upper-division Structural Geology courses, where developing a thorough understanding of rock deformation often involves mentally projecting, rotating and manipulating spatial data.

One set of instructional materials involved short weekly in-class concept tests, which were designed to isolate a single component of visualization and to test that skill within the context of a geologic problem related to the course material. These concept tests were given to all students who attended lecture. The second set of instructional materials involved short weekly laboratory exercises focused on stereographic projection. These exercises were given to students in one of the two laboratory sections but not the other section. Statistical assessment of exam scores indicates that students given extra visualization practice out-performed other students on visualization questions but not on the exam as a whole. Qualitative analysis suggests that all students in general had highly developed three-dimensional visualization skills. Those students with extra practice additionally had a firm grasp of both the process and utility of stereographic projection. We believe these results are significant for educators because they demonstrate that a relatively small time commitment can yield significant improvement in students' spatial visualization abilities. Perhaps frequent focused practice with other difficult-to-attain skills would yield similar benefits.