Developing a discipline-based measure of visualisation


  • Ken Sutton
  • Anthony Williams


This paper reports on current studies in a large research project concerned with assessing and improving visualisation specific to engineering and science disciplines. These studies primarily focus on establishing a reliable measure of visualisation to identify poor performers so that training and learning tasks can be developed. The visualisation measure called the 3D Ability Test (3DAT) complies with psychometric test construction standards and consists of subtests and test items within each. The 3DAT is a computer-based instrument that measures choice accuracy and response time. The methodology used to investigate subtest properties is presented and results of statistical procedures are reported. Factors of visualisation are examined and the benefits of using a range of subtests are outlined. A case is made for a purpose-designed subtest (dot coordinate) to be seen as a particularly good measure of the visualisation skills considered necessary for science-related disciplines. We outline preliminary studies conducted with unskilled participants (no prior learning) and skilled participants (prior learning) under laboratory conditions. Included is research done with first year university students in design-based disciplines such as mechanical and chemical engineering. Results revealed significant differences between engineering groups when compared to other groups and consistent evidence of gender bias favouring males. The success of collaboration between unusual partners (applied psychology and design) is discussed and argued is the relevance of visualisation to science disciplines where conceptual development is important. Central to the overall project is funding provided by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC).