# The Effect of Engineering Major on Spatial Ability Improvements Over the Course of Undergraduate Studies

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3 FIGURE 3B EXAMPLE OF SECOND OBJECT SHOWN BEFORE ROTATION. STUDENT IS ASKED TO RATE THEIR CONFIDENCE (7-POINT SCALE) IN ABILITY TO PERFORM ROTATION SIMILAR TO THAT SHOWN IN FIGURE 3A computer engineering students. civil engineering (p<0.05) and civil technology (p<0.05) show a statistically significant difference when compared with mechanical engineering, but none when compared with the other groups. The self confidence (self efficacy - SE) of the freshman students in their ability to perform given object rotations is given in Table 3 and shows no statistically significant difference between the different majors except for civil technology and undeclared students when compared to the mechanical engineering group which show some statistically significant difference. This means that when the students enter their freshman year, their spatial ability and self efficacy are statistically equivalent. Excluding the female subjects from the analysis has minimal effect in most cases because of the small proportion of females to males in the different sample groups. There were some slight changes in significance when females were excluded from the analysis. The largest of these changes were observed for the civil engineering and civil technology groups which had the highest proportion of female subjects. FIGURE 4A EXAMPLE OF A LINE OBJECT BEFORE AND AFTER ROTATION, SHOWN FOR 3 SECONDS FIGURE 4B EXAMPLE OF SECOND OBJECT SHOWN BEFORE ROTATION. STUDENTS ASKED TO RATE THEIR CONFIDENCE (7-POINT SCALE) IN ABILITY TO PERFORM ROTATION SIMILAR TO THAT SHOWN IN FIGURE 4A RESULTS The mean correct PSVT percentage and the mean self efficacy (on a 7-point scale) were used as the measures of variability. Statistical significance in these measures was indicated by use of the p-value for a 2-tailed T-test. As indicated earlier the data indicated in all the data tables is for combined (males and females) and for males only (given in parenthesis). Table 2 shows the mean PSVT s for entering freshmen for the different majors viz. mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, civil technology and undeclared students. There is no statistical difference in the mean PSVT s between undeclared, mechanical, electrical and TABLE 2 COMPARISON OF MEAN CORRECT PSVT PERCENTAGE SCORES FOR FRESHMEN FROM DIFFERENT MAJORS Mean Score ME (69.83) EE (69.02) Civ E (61.56) Civ Tech (60.60) Comp E (67.71) Undeclared (66.83) ME EE Civ E Civ Tech (0.790) 0.011* (0.02*) (0.33) 0.049* (0.018*) (0.106) (0.880) (0.582) (0.790) (0.321) (0.271) (0.523) (0.697) (0.464) (0.397) * p<0.05, ** p<0.005, *** p<0.001, cf when compared with Comp E (0.898) TABLE 3 COMPARISON OF SELF EFFICACY AVERAGE SCORES (ON A SEVEN POINT SCALE) FOR FRESHMEN FROM DIFFERENT MAJORS Average ME (5.324) EE (5.106) Civ E (5.303) Civ Tech (4.806) Comp E (5.473) Undeclared (4.807) ME EE CivE Civ Tech (0.174) (0.903) (0.410) (0.012*) (0.306) (0.106) (0.455) (0.175) (0.535) (0.056) (0.045*) (0.404) (0.182) (0.999) CompE (0.114) T1H-22

4 Table 4 compares the mean correct PSVT s for seniors in mechanical, electrical, civil and computer engineering. The civil technology program is a two year associate s degree and therefore does not have seniors. The mechanical engineering group shows the highest mean PSVT that is statistically significantly different from the mean for the civil engineering group (p<0.005). While there is a difference in the mean PSVT s between mechanical and electrical engineering, this difference is only marginally statistically significant (p=0.067). The mean PSVT for the computer engineering group is lower than that for mechanical engineering though the difference is not statistically significant. Note that the sample size for computer engineering is small (N=9), therefore results may change with larger sample sizes. TABLE 4 COMPARISON OF MEAN CORRECT PSVT SCORES FOR SENIORS Mean Score p values cf p values cf p values cf ME EE Civ E ME (77.54) EE (70.57) (0.120) Civ E (70.51) 0.005** (0.025*) (0.990) Comp E (76.88) (0.916) (0.438) (0.242) Table 5 shows some interesting results on the self efficacy of seniors. While there is no statistically significant difference between the average s for electrical, civil and computer engineering, there is a significant difference between mechanical engineering and the others with the lowest average being recorded for civil engineering (Average = and p = 0.000). Comparing the mean correct PSVT performance of freshmen to those of seniors for each major showed some interesting results as can be seen in Table 6. Mechanical engineering majors showed a statistically significant (p=0.001) increase in the mean PSVT s from freshman to senior year while civil engineering majors indicated only a marginally significant increase (p=0.056). Electrical and computer engineering did not show any statistically significant change in their mean PSVT s. The self efficacy of the mechanical engineering group improves significantly (p=0.01) from the freshman to senior year as seen in Table 7. Civil engineering students showed a marginally significant difference (p=0.051), while electrical and computer engineering groups did not show any statistically significant improvement. TABLE 5 COMPARISON OF SELF EFFICACY AVERAGE SCORES FOR SENIORS FROM DIFFERENT MAJORS Average ME EE Civ E Score ME (5.618) EE (5.177) 0.046* (0.051) Civ E (4.899) 0.000*** (0.000***) (0.195) Comp E (4.919) (0.055) (0.509) (0953) TABLE 6 COMPARISON OF PSVT MEAN SCORES FOR FRESHMEN AND SENIORS IN THE DIFFERENT MAJORS T1H-23 Freshman mean Senior mean p values ME (69.83) (77.54) 0.001*** (0.002***) EE (69.02) (70.57) (0.762) Civ E (61.56) (70.51) (0.045*) Comp E (67.71) (76.88) (0.257) * p<0.05, ** p<0.005, *** p<0.001 TABLE 7 AVERAGE SELF EFFICACY SCORES COMPARISON BETWEEN FRESHMAN AND SENIOR CLASSES Freshman Senior average average p values ME (5.324) (5.618) 0.010* (0.023*) EE (5.106) (5.177) (0.782) Civ E (5.303) (4.899) (0.051) Comp E (5.473) (4.919) (0.221) * p<0.05, ** p<0.005, *** p<0.001 DISCUSSION Spatial ability (as measured with the PSVT test) is not a factor in the choice of engineering major for entering freshmen but it improves during the course of a four year engineering program, in particular for majors that require strong spatial ability skills (e.g. mechanical and civil engineering). The mean PSVT s for almost all entering freshmen are about the same with no statistically significant difference between the different majors. The only exception to this is civil engineering (p=0.01) and civil technology (p=0.049) when compared to mechanical engineering. The greatest improvement in mean PSVT s is seen in mechanical (69.26 to 77.37, p=0.001) and civil (60.69 to 68.70, p=0.056) engineering majors. These majors require many spatial visualization techniques and tools such as engineering drawing and drafting, computer aided design and modeling. Electrical and computer engineering showed modest increases in the mean PSVT s that were not statistically significant. This may be due to the nature of these programs in that they don t have a heavy reliance on spatial visualization tools, similar to those used in the tests, in their teaching learning process. The self efficacy of entering freshmen shows no statistically significant difference between the different majors. An analysis of the self efficacy mean s for the

5 senior classes indicates a very clear and statistically significant difference between electrical (mean 5.127, p<0.05) and civil engineering (mean 4.957, p=0.000) on the one hand and mechanical engineering (mean 5.590) on the other. Mechanical engineering showed the only statistically significant improvement in the self efficacy of students from freshman to senior year from to (p<0.05) while civil engineering (5.356 to 4.957, p=0.05) actually indicated a statistically significant decrease. The decrease in self efficacy seen for the civil engineering group did not correlate with the statistically marginally significant improvement in spatial ability. The self efficacy of the electrical and computer engineering groups decreased slightly but these decreases were not statistically significant. It should be noted that not all of the freshmen who were administered the tests will remain in the given major due to attrition. Thus, the results may be affected by this. Future research will track students throughout their college careers to verify the results presented here. CONCLUSION The effect of engineering major on spatial ability and self efficacy changes over the course of undergraduate studies were investigated. Overall the spatial ability and self efficacy were equivalent for freshman students regardless of the engineering discipline enrolled. Furthermore, it was found that those majors that teach or use many spatial visualization tools and techniques such as CAD software had the greatest spatial ability improvements over a four year matriculation period. Mechanical engineering showed the most significant improvement in mean PSVT s from to (p=0.001) followed by civil engineering with mean PSVT s increasing from to (p=0.056). The improvements for the electrical and computer engineering groups were only marginal and not statistically significant. The average self efficacy s for mechanical engineering students increased significantly from freshman to senior year while those for the other groups decreased. The decrease in self efficacy for the civil engineering group, from to was statistically significant with p=0.05. The reason for the marginal increase in mean PSVT s and a decrease in the average SE s for the electrical, computer and civil engineering groups may be due to the nature of the objects and rotations that are used in the tests which tended to be more mechanical than any of the other disciplines. [2] Coleman, S.L. and A.J. Gotch, Spatial Perception Skills of Chemistry Students, Journal of Chemical Research, Vol. 75, No. 2, 1998, pp [3] Carter, C.S., M.A. LaRussa, and G.M. Bodner, A Study of Two Measures of Spatial Ability as Predictors of Success in Different Levels of General Chemistry, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 24, No. 7, 1987, pp [4] Pallrand, G.J. and F. Seeber, Spatial Ability and Achievement in Introductory Physics, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 21, No. 5, 1984, pp [5] Lord, T.R., Enhancing Learning in the Life Sciences through Spatial Perception, Innovative Higher Education, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1990, pp [6] Sorby, S., Improving the Spatial Skills of Engineering Students: Impact on Graphics Performance and Retention, Engineering Design and Graphics Journal, Vol. 65, No. 3, 2001, pp [7] Piaget, J., Inhelder, B., The Child s Conception of Space, New York: The Norton Library, 1967 [8] Contero, M., Naya, F., Company, P., Saorín, J.L., "Learning Support Tools for Developing Spatial Abilities in Engineering Design", International Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 22, No.3, 2006, pp [9] Sorby, S.A., A Course in Spatial Visualization and its Impact on the Retention of Female Engineering Students, Journal of women and minorities in science and engineering, vol. 7, No.2, 2001, pp [10] Kinsey, B.L., Towle, E., Hwang, G., O Brien, E., Bauer, C., Effect of Object and Rotation Type on Self Efficacy and Spatial Ability Test Results, Submitted to the Journal of Engineering Design Graphics, [11] Guay, R., Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations, Purdue Research Foundation, West Lafayette, IN, 1977 [12] Kinsey, B.L., Towle, E., O Brien, E., and Bauer, C., Analysis of Selfefficacy and Ability Related to Spatial Tasks and the Effect on Retention for Students in a College of Engineering and Physical Science, Submitted to the International Journal of Engineering Education, 2006 [13] Schunk, D.H., Effect of Effort Attributional Feedback on Children s Perceived Self-efficacy and Achievement, Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 74, 1982, pp ACKNOWLEDGMENT We would like to gratefully acknowledge the National Science Foundation for their support through grant No.EEC for this work. REFERENCES [1] Hensen, J.J., The Impact of Computer Graphics on Instruction in Engineering Graphics, Engineering Design Graphics Journal, vol. 50 No.2, 1986, pp T1H-24

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