students use heuristics and other strategies that do not employ visualization skills and are able to move flexibly between such strategies as needed. In addition to clarifying the overall role of spatial ability, it would be useful to evaluate the contributions of large-scale and small-scale spatial ability to learning in physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, the geosciences, and astronomy. DBER has not yet examined these different spatial abilities.
The research base on promoting students’ understanding of and facility with domain-specific representations is less robust. DBER does not provide conclusive evidence about how instructors, illustrators, and authors should design representations for maximum effect, or what the optimal representations are for a given situation. Moreover, additional research is needed to identify the range of instructional approaches that help students use mathematical and graphical representations to enhance their knowledge and understanding. For example, does designing and constructing representations affect students’ understanding differently than merely interpreting existing representations, and if so, how? Given the increasing use of technology, more research is needed on the educational efficacy of computer animations, simulations, and other technology-enhanced techniques that aid with visualization and representations, and the conditions under which those techniques are effective.
Representations vary within and across disciplines. As one example, the nature of the representations used in geoscience education varies enormously on multiple important dimensions, including the use of spatial representations to represent nonspatial data (Dutrow, 2007; Kastens, 2009, 2010; Libarkin and Brick, 2002). This variation presents a challenge to developing a research agenda for the use of visualizations and representations in undergraduate science and engineering education, because research using any specific representation may not be generalizable to other representations.