2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:00 PM


HARWOOD, Cara L.1, ORMAND, Carol J.2, MANDUCA, Cathryn A.2 and SHIPLEY, Thomas F.3, (1)Geology Department, University of California-Davis, One Shields Ave, Davis, CA 95616, (2)Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College St, Northfield, MN 55057, (3)Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, clharwood@ucdavis.edu

Research in cognitive science suggests that two distinct cognitive dimensions are important for processing visual information: spatial visualization and object visualization. It has been suggested (Kastens, 2008) that both dimensions are essential for geoscientists, in contrast to other disciplines, which rely heavily on one or the other. We provide supporting evidence for two cognitive dimensions of visualization, and present information about how geoscience students develop spatial vs. object visualization skills. Our data were collected from students enrolled in four geology courses at Carleton College. Students were given a variety of visual-spatial tests at the beginning and end of each course to determine how different cognitive tasks correlate, how students improve visual-spatial ability, and how visualization skills correlate with course success. Spatial visualization skills were assessed using psychometric mental rotation, surface development (mental folding), and object slicing tests. Object visualization was tested using the Snodgrass image completion test and a new test involving faulted words developed for this study.

Results indicate that students significantly improved their visual-spatial thinking skills after enrollment in a geoscience course, which is consistent with findings of several previous studies. We also find significant positive correlations between performance on tasks involving spatial visualization, but no correlation between performance on spatial and object visualization tasks. This supports the idea that visual-spatial ability relies on multiple cognitive dimensions. Furthermore, performance on spatial visualization tasks correlates with overall course success, but performance on object visualization tasks does not, which may suggest that assessment is more linked to tasks coupled with spatial ability. Finally, students in upper level classes have better developed spatial visualization skills than those in lower level students. There is, however, no difference in their object visualization skills, possibly indicating that although students improve both skills in one course, only spatial visualization skills are retained. This may suggest that object visualization skills, as measured by this study, may be more content specific.