Does the Degree of Abstraction of Interactive Visualizations Affect Students' Learning of Surveying?

Does the Degree of Abstraction of Interactive Visualizations Affect Students' Learning of Surveying?

Nicoletta Adamo-Villani (Purdue University, USA) and Hazar Nicholas Dib (Purdue University, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7010-3.ch006
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Many benefits have been claimed for visualizations, a general assumption being that learning is facilitated. However, several researchers argue that little is known about the cognitive value of graphical representations, be they schematic, such as diagrams, or more realistic, such as virtual reality. In the first part of the chapter, the authors present theories that guide the research on learning with visualizations, report different visualization taxonomies, and discuss the differences between realistic and schematic visualizations. In the second part, the authors discuss surveying education and describe a study that investigated the effect of the type of visualization on students' learning of surveying practices. The study compared two virtual learning environments, one with realistic visualizations of terrains and instruments, and one with schematic graphical representations. Results of an experiment with 62 students show that there were not significant differences in learning between students who interacted with the realistic visualizations versus those who interacted with the schematic ones.
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Surveying is “…the science and art of making all essential measurements to determine the relative position of points and/or physical and cultural details above, on, or beneath the surface of the Earth, and to depict them in a usable form, or to establish the position of points and/or details…” (American Congress on Surveying and Mapping - ACSM).

Teaching construction surveying presents many challenges such as limited students’ access to instruments, limited availability of terrains on which to practice, dependence on weather conditions, need for one to one training, difficulty in assessing the individual student’s performance with accuracy, and more. Recently, several researchers have recognized the potential of interactive visualizations for enhancing students’ learning of surveying concepts and practices. However, no study reported in the literature has investigated which specific aspects of visualizations are most effective for learning surveying. Although visualizations can have fundamentally different structural features, serve diverse functions and convey different content for different target audiences, in educational research, they are often treated as a single, uniform entity and, as a result, “ on learning with visualizations are equivocal, with studies showing widely varying effects (negative to positive) on learning.” (Scheiter et al., 2009).

In the context of surveying education, all visualizations described in the literature present a high degree of realism. However, it is not known yet whether a realistic visualization that represents objects and processes with high fidelity is more effective at facilitating learning of surveying practices than a schematic visualization that illustrates the same objects and processes with diagrams and line drawings. The study reported in the chapter fills this knowledge gap by answering the question of whether the amount of realistic detail of interactive visualizations has an effect on undergraduate students’ procedural learning of chaining. The findings of the study reported in the paper are important as they can help educational researchers and visualization designers decide if they should take on the substantial cost and time-consuming effort to develop a highly realistic visualization (such as a photorealistic virtual learning environment) when simple line drawings or diagrams might be as or more effective for those particular learning objectives and target users.

The chapter is organized as follows: in section 2 (Background) we discuss the theoretical approaches that guide the research on learning with visualizations, review existing visualization taxonomies, and report prior experiments that compared realistic versus schematic visualizations. In section 3 (Surveying Education) we discuss the challenges of teaching and learning surveying concepts and practices, and we present a review of recently developed visualizations for surveying education. In section 4 (Description of the study) we describe the study and report the findings. A discussion of the limitations of the study and directions for future work are included in section 5 (Discussion and future work).

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