Date: 11 Apr 2014

Drawing on Experience: How Domain Knowledge Is Reflected in Sketches of Scientific Structures and Processes

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Abstract

Capturing the nature of students’ mental representations and how they change with learning is a primary goal in science education research. This can be challenging in spatially intense domains, such as geoscience, architecture, and engineering. In this research, we test whether sketching can be used to gauge level of expertise in geoscience, using new technology designed to facilitate this process. We asked participants with differing levels of geoscience experience to copy two kinds of geoscience images—photographs of rock formations and causal diagrams. To permit studying the process of sketching as well as the structure and content of the sketches, we used the CogSketch system (Forbus et al. 2011, Topics in Cognitive Science 3:648–666) to record the time course of sketching and analyze the sketches themselves. Relative to novices, geoscience students included more geological structures and relational symbols in their sketches of geoscience materials and were more likely to construct their sketches in a sequence consistent with the order of causal events. These differences appear to stem from differences in domain knowledge, because they did not show up in participants’ sketches of materials from other fields. The findings and methods of this research suggest new ways to promote and assess science learning, which are well suited to the visual–spatial demands of many domains.

Author Note

The authors thank Jack Butler, Nathaniel Goldin-Meadow, Katherine James, and Nadeeka Dias for assistance with data collection and coding, and Jeffrey Usher for technical assistance with CogSketch. This research was supported by NSF grant SBE-0541957, the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC).