An Exploration of Engineering Students' 3D Visualization Processing


The goals of this study were to: a) Identify patterns in students' processing of 3D models presented via drawings, interactive computer models, and physical models; and b) Identify design principles to guide the development of computer based simulations for enhancing students' 3D visualization skills, based on the results of the processing analysis. Pairs of students enrolled in a Mechanics of Materials class were presented with a series of 3d models and associated problems, presented in three formats (paper, computer models, & physical models). They were required to describe their general theories as to the behavior of the models based on the forces provided, and were also required to calculate moments based on the forces presented in the drawings. As they worked they were required to discuss the problem aloud with their partner. Students' activities were video taped, including dynamic screen capture of students' manipulation of the computer models. These data were then analyzed via systematic application of qualitative techniques, with a focus on identifying categories of processing behaviors, assigning behaviors to these categories, and relating these to student performance. The following themes were identified as playing an important role in student performance: a) precise terminology; b) breaking problems into component parts; c) complimentary roles in collaborative teams; c) purposeful, hands-on, interaction with materials; and d) problem visualization. Design principles, based on these findings, are discussed.


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Third Department

Business and Information Technology

Keywords and Phrases

3D Visualization; Three-dimensional test of visualization skills; Visualization; Three-dimensional imaging

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


File Type





© 2006 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2006