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Effect of instruction on spatial visualization ability in civil engineering students

Alias, Maizam and Black, Thomas R and Gray, David E (2002) Effect of instruction on spatial visualization ability in civil engineering students. International Education Journal, 3 (1).


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Spatial visualisation ability is a subset of spatial ability - one of the factors of human intelligence structure. Spatial visualisation ability has been defined as, " the ability to mentally manipulate, rotate, twist, or invert pictorially presented stimulus objects." (McGee, 1979, p. 893). This multi-faceted ability helps engineers including civil engineers to conceptualise links between reality and the abstract model of that reality. For example, in the analysis of a loaded beam structure, the deflected shape of the beam is the reality and the mathematical equation chosen (often unseen in a computer design package) to represent this deflected shape is the abstract model of that reality. A civil engineer needs first to have an intuitive understanding of the interactive relationships among structural components before he could begin to predict the deflected shape, which leads to the identification of the abstract model. This intuitive understanding is also essential to civil engineers in another way. It helps them in visualising, predicting, designing and checking for the worst possible combination of loads on a given structure. In the design of a reinforced concrete design for example, the ability to visualise aids the engineer in the prediction of critical loading conditions, which is necessary in reaching an adequate reinforcement design. Spatial visualisation ability has also been found to be essential to a student's success in some engineering related subjects such as calculus (Winkle, 1997), mathematics, (Battista,Wheatley and Talsma, 1989), engineering drawing (Sorby and Baartmans, 1996a) and computer-aided design (Sorby, 1999). Early indication for a positive relationship between this ability and structural design has also been found. Alias (2000) carried out a learning task analysis on the design of a reinforced concrete column - an area that demands a wide variety of structural design skills - and discovered that spatial skills are pre-requisite to the learning of column design suggesting that spatial visualisation ability may be essential to the success of structural design. Overall, spatial visualisation ability may be critical to learning and problem solving in civil engineering especially to the learning of subject matter that demands spatial strategies such as structural design, engineering mathematics and soil mechanics. There has also been some suggestions that spatial ability is relevant to problem solving that is not dependent on spatial strategies proposed by Roberts, Gilmore and Wood (1997). Roberts, et al. proposed that in cases where non-spatial strategies are required, spatial ability influences the degree to which a problem solver is able to develop and evaluate these strategies. In summary, spatial visualisation ability appears to be necessary to problem solving in engineering related areas that requires spatial as well as non-spatial strategies. Therefore, a better understanding of this ability should be potentially beneficial to the engineering education and profession.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: teaching and learning; spatial activities; structural design; spatial visualisation ability; civil engineering
Subjects: Q Science > QP Physiology
Divisions: Faculty of Technical and Vocational Education > Department of Professional Education
Depositing User: M.Iqbal Zainal A
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2011 02:55
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2015 08:29
URI: http://eprints.uthm.edu.my/id/eprint/1815
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