ED11B-0729: Understanding geological processes: Visualization of rigid and non-rigid transformations (Invited)

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Authors: Thomas F Shipley1, Kinnari Atit1, Cathryn A Manduca2, Carol J Ormand2, Ilyse Resnick1, Basil Tikoff3

Author Institutions: 1. Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA; 2. Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, MN, USA; 3. Geology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA

Visualizations are used in the geological sciences to support reasoning about structures and events. Research in cognitive sciences offers insights into the range of skills of different users, and ultimately how visualizations might support different users. To understand the range of skills needed to reason about earth processes we have developed a program of research that is grounded in the geosciences’ careful description of the spatial and spatiotemporal patterns associated with earth processes. In particular, we are pursuing a research program that identifies specific spatial skills and investigates whether and how they are related to each other. For this study, we focus on a specific question: Is there an important distinction in the geosciences between rigid and non-rigid deformation? To study a general spatial thinking skill we employed displays with non-geological objects that had been altered by rigid change (rotation), and two types of non-rigid change (“brittle”ù (or discontinuous) and “ductile”ù (or continuous) deformation). Disciplinary scientists (geosciences and chemistry faculty), and novices (non-science faculty and undergraduate psychology students) answered questions that required them to visualize the appearance of the object before the change. In one study, geologists and chemists were found to be superior to non-science faculty in reasoning about rigid rotations (e.g., what an object would look like from a different perspective). Geologists were superior to chemists in reasoning about brittle deformations (e.g., what an object looked like before it was broken – here the object was a word cut into many fragments displaced in different directions). This finding is consistent with two hypotheses: 1) Experts are good at visualizing the types of changes required for their domain; and 2) Visualization of rigid and non-rigid changes are not the same skill. An additional important finding is that there was a broad range of skill in both rigid and non-rigid reasoning within the panels of science experts. In a second study, individual differences in reasoning about brittle deformations were correlated with reasoning about ductile deformations (e.g., what a bent plastic sheet would look like when unbent). Students who were good at visualizing what something looked like before it was broken were also good at visualizing what something looked like before it was bent, and this skill was not correlated to reasoning about rigid rotations. These findings suggest the cognitive processes that support reasoning about rigid and non-rigid events may differ and thus may require different types of support and training. We do not know if differences between experts and novices result from experience or self-selection, or both. Nevertheless, the range of spatial skill evinced by novices and experts strongly argues for designing visualizations to support a variety of users.

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