Pictorial Visual Rotation Ability of Engineering Design Graphics Students


  • Jeremy Vaughn Ernst Virginia Tech
  • Diarmaid Lane University of Limerick
  • Aaron C. Clark North Carolina State University


The ability to rotate visual mental images is a complex cognitive skill. It requires the building of graphical libraries of information through short or long term memory systems and the subsequent retrieval and manipulation of these towards a specified goal. The development of mental rotation skill is of critical importance within engineering design graphics. It promotes the ability to comprehend complex engineering drawings, communicate design ideas through freehand sketching, and develop CAD modeling strategies. Considering this, exploratory development research was conducted in efforts to investigate student ability levels measured by parallel pictorial items of an existing geometric mental rotation measure. Images of rotated general consumer objects were captured and composed in a corresponding format to that of the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Visualization of Rotations. An expert review panel from engineering/technical graphics was convened to analyze consistency of format, rotation, and solutions of the corresponding pictorial items instrument. A group of post-secondary Engineering Design Graphics students were randomly administered the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Visualization of Rotations where the remainder of the group was administered the pictorial item instrument. The developed pictorial instrument represented orientation familiarity, while geometric forms in the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Visualization of Rotations represented unfamiliar structures. Comparative analyses were conducted and differences identified pertaining to student abilities in mental rotation of geometric forms and pictorial visual rotation abilities. Summary statistics, frequency analyses, and hypothesis testing uncovered that student mental rotation abilities of geometric forms collectively exceeds that of pictorial rotation ability.

Author Biographies

Jeremy Vaughn Ernst, Virginia Tech

Jeremy V. Ernst is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Virginia Tech. He currently teaches graduate courses in STEM education foundations and contemporary issues in Integrative STEM Education. Jeremy specializes in research focused on dynamic intervention means for STEM education students categorized as at-risk of dropping out of school. He also has curriculum research and development experiences in technology, engineering, and design education.

Diarmaid Lane, University of Limerick

Diarmaid Lane is a Lecturer in Technology Teacher Education at the University of Limerick. His research interests are in the areas of freehand sketching, cognition and spatial visualization. He is currently Director of Membership of the Engineering Design Graphics Division (EDGD).

Aaron C. Clark, North Carolina State University

Aaron C. Clark is a Professor of Technology, Design, and Engineering Education within the College of Education. Dr. Clark's teaching specialties are in visual theory, 3-D modeling, technical animation, and STEM-based pedagogy. His research areas include graphics education, game art and design, scientific/technical visualization and professional development for technology and engineering education.





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