Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

LaDue, Nicole D.

Degree Name

M.S. (Master of Science)

Legacy Department

Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment


Topographic maps represent three-dimensional (3D) terrain using a system of two-dimensional (2D) symbols. To facilitate students’ understanding of topographic maps, the Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox reads the elevation of actual sand and projects elevation information onto the sand’s surface (e.g., contour lines). Although over 600 institutions have built AR Sandboxes to help people interpret topographic maps, classroom studies using the AR Sandbox have not found significant gains on topographic map assessments. The present study is a 22 design testing the affordances of the AR Sandbox in a one on one, laboratory setting. In the first level of the study, participants interacted with the AR Sandbox (3D feedback) or a computer monitor (2D feedback), which provided spatial feedback on five landforms that participants constructed sequentially in the sandbox. Participants initially built the landforms in the sand with the feedback off (i.e., no projection or monitor displaying topographic map). The feedback was then turned on, and participants compared and contrasted their landform to the target topographic map. Participants were then asked to modify their landform with the feedback on (continuous feedback), or the feedback was turned off (discrete feedback) during modification. A mixed-ANOVA revealed significant gains on a modified version of the Topographic Map Assessment (TMA-B) from pre- to post-intervention (F(1, 74) = 80.34, p < .001). A significant interaction revealed that participants in the 2D condition had greater gains (M = 2.91, SD = 2.48) than those in the 3D (M = 1.64, SD = 2.07) condition (F(1, 74) = 6.38, p = .014), although both conditions had significant pre- to post-intervention improvement (2D: t(37) = 7.24, p < .001, d = 1.02; 3D: t(39) = 5.01, p < .001, d = 0.64). On average, the discrete feedback groups spent significantly less intervention time (M = 48.3, SD = 16.9) compared to the continuous groups (M = 58.2, SD = 18.1) (F(1, 76) = 6.20, p = .015). The findings suggest that the AR Sandbox does improve topographic map skill for individual students using this study’s approach and that the most efficient technique engages students in discrete cycles of feedback using a 2D computer monitor.


170 pages




Northern Illinois University

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