Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


UTTAL, David H.1, JEE, Benjamin2 and GENTNER, Dedre1, (1)Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, (2)Department of Psychology, College of the Holy Cross, Evanston, IL 01610,

A central issue in education is how to support the spatial thinking involved in learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We investigated whether and how the cognitive process of analogical comparison supports learning of a basic spatial concept in geoscience, fault. Our theoretical perspective is informed by recent work that has demonstrated that the use of analogies can facilitate visual recognition and understanding in geoscience education (e.g, Jee et al., 2010; Sibley, 2009). For example, because of the high variability in the appearance of faults, it may be difficult for students to learn to recognize the category-relevant spatial structure and to learn to ignore less relevant information. We used principles of analogical and visual processing to investigate methods to help students recognize faults in photographs of outcrops.

We conducted three cognitive psychology experiments, testing whether comparison of highly alignable (i.e., visually similar) contrasting examples would help students learn the fault concept. Our main findings were that participants performed better at identifying faults when they (i) compared contrasting (fault/no fault) cases versus viewing each case separately (Experiment 1), (ii) compared similar as opposed to dissimilar contrasting cases early in learning (Experiment 2), and (iii) viewed a contrasting pair of schematic block diagrams as opposed to a single block diagram of a fault as part of an instructional text (Experiment 3). The results suggest that comparison of alignable contrasting cases helped participants to distinguish category-relevant from -irrelevant features. When the comparisons occurred early in learning, participants were more likely to form an accurate conceptual representation. Thus, analogical comparison of images may provide one powerful way to enhance spatial learning in geoscience and other STEM disciplines.

Jee et al., (2010). Commentary: ANALOGICAL THINKING IN GEOSCIENCE EDUCATION: Journal of Geoscience Education, 58, 2-13.s

Sibley, D., 2009, A cognitive framework for reasoning with scientific models: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 57, p. 255-263.