2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 151-9
Presentation Time: 3:25 PM


VAN BOENING, Angela, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77840 and RIGGS, Eric M., College of Geosciences, Texas A&M University, Room 202, Eller O&M Building, MS 3148 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843

Cognitive scientists have developed a variety of visualization tests to assess spatial and other visualization skills. In recent years, geology instructors have used many of these tests to quantify such skills among geology undergraduates in order to diagnose or predict performance. Previous studies suggest that the Mental Rotations Test (MRT) and the Hidden Figures Test (HFT) activate spatial and object visualization skills, respectively. For these tests, object visualization is defined as the extraction of a pattern from a noisy background and spatial visualization refers to the rotation of objects. Educators have reasoned that these visualization skills should be commonly used to solve many geologic problems and that these assessments may be used as a proxy for measuring geology students’ visualization skills.

58 students in an upper-level geology course and 40 students in an advanced field course were given the MRT and HFT. We purposefully sampled 20 students total from both groups who scored high on both assessments, high on one but low on the other, and low on both to participate in individual interviews. Classroom students were given a set of rocks, previously not examined by the students, that demonstrated highly visual characteristics, and asked to describe them, and field students were asked a series of concept questions early in the course relevant to the field course exercises.

We predicted that students who scored high on both tests would be able to accurately identify and describe rocks and processes that we identified as object and spatial tasks, those who scored high on the MRT but low on the HFT would do well on spatial tasks only, those who scored high on the HFT but low on the MRT would do well on object tasks only, and those who scored low on both assessments would do poorly on both tasks. However, students were largely able to identify characteristics and explain processes regardless of their cognitive assessment scores. Moreover, students seemed to draw heavily on concepts learned from sedimentology/stratigraphy and structural geology courses they have taken. This may suggest that these two cognitive assessments are not suitable tools for measuring these specific visualization skills in a geological context, or at least that these spatial skills are not directly linked to geologic reasoning in a simple manner.