In this study, our team developed a virtual reality (VR) integrated curriculum for a freshmen engineering visuospatial thinking course. Visuospatial skills, especially understanding how a 2D image represents a 3D object, are known to be an important part of student success in engineering. To ensure a minimum level of visuospatial skills in later courses, the Ohio State University offers a course on visuospatial thinking for incoming engineering freshmen; it is required for students that score below 18/30 on the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Visualization of Rotations (PSVT:R). To help these students interrelate 2D images and 3D representations, we created a set of collaborative and analytical activities that the students engaged in with the help of VR technology. For this, we built custom smartphone VR applications for several of the modules in the Developing Spatial Thinking Workbook by Sheryl Sorby (ISBN 978-1-111-13906-3). Using hardware supplied by us (Google Cardboard headsets and smartphones), students completed VR activities in pairs (or groups of 3). Each partner had a turn with the VR application and communicated with their non-VR partner to complete interactive visuospatial problems. We evaluated progress using pre- and post-module quizzes, and gains were significantly higher when students were given the experimental VR instruction than when they were not. Students were also interviewed at the beginning and end of the course, explaining their thinking as they worked visuospatial problems. By using this smartphone-based approach, we were able to implement a VR intervention on the classroom-scale, with each student having simultaneous access to the VR content.
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