GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 284-4
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


ATKINS, Rachel M., Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, 2800 Faucette Drive, Raleigh, NC 27607, MCNEAL, Karen S., Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, ORMAND, Carol J., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College St, Northfield, MN 55057 and SHIPLEY, Thomas F., Department of Psychology, Temple University, 1701 North 13th Street, Weiss Hall, RM 315, Philadelphia, PA 19122,

While spatial reasoning skills have been linked to student success in the geosciences, these skills are not often explicitly taught in geoscience courses. Fortunately, these skills have also been shown to be pliable, highlighting the importance of teaching these skills in a meaningful way. In order for instructors to effectively teach these skills, it is crucial to understand how students of all skill levels visually engage with spatial stimuli.

One of the essential spatial skills for geologists is disembedding ability. This skill is required when dissecting a complex scene (cross section, map, outcrop) and deciphering between important and unimportant features, especially when time and resources are limiting factors. Visual penetrative ability is also key to understanding and visualizing how Earth’s layers could be manipulated beneath the surface.

This study examines student visual navigation while solving geologic block diagram problems. Students were given a pre-test to determine spatial skills prior to the study. Questions for this study were selected for their varying complexity from the previously validated Geologic Block Cross-sectioning Test. Student gaze was recorded using an eye-tracker and analyzed for gaze patterns using qualitative and quantitative methods. Of particular interest were the locations of fixated attention (ie. the face of the diagram vs. the top and sides of the boxes) and any correlations between correctness of answers, length of time to answer and locations of salient areas of the block diagrams. In addition we also examined the same eye-tracking metrics from geoscience graduate students in order to examine differences in the navigation (e.g. gaze path) and visual patterns (e.g. fixation locations, fixation duration, etc.) of undergraduates and graduate students when solving the block diagram problems. Findings from this study will be discussed and recommendations will be made about how to scaffold spatial reasoning skills for students in the classroom.