Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Geological and Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Heather Petcovic

Second Advisor

Dr. Peter Voice

Third Advisor

Dr. Kathleen Baker


3D, topography, education, lab, scaffolding

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Learning to effectively read topographic maps is challenging for students, as these maps contain 3D representations of terrain displayed on a 2D surface map. This project assessed student learning when 3D terrain printed from a portion of the laboratory quadrangle map currently in use was introduced into an earth science course for non-science majors. Using a quasi-experimental design with nonequivalent groups across two semesters, performance on the Modified Topographic Map Assessment (MTMA) administered as a pre- and posttest was used to compare learning outcomes between the traditional lab and the 3D print lab intervention. Students in the traditional (n = 54) and 3D print terrain (n = 24) groups had comparable incoming topographic map interpretation skills as measured by pretest scores on the MTMA (t(75) = .98, p = .33). Pre- to posttest scores on the MTMA did not significantly improve in the traditional lab (M = 0.63, SD = 3.13, t(53) = 1.48, p = .15) but did improve significantly in the 3D print terrain lab (M = 1.96, SD = 2.97, t(23) = 3.23, p = .004). Responses on the open-ended items were also more sophisticated in the 3D print terrain lab. Results suggest that the 3D print terrain helped students to “see” the topography, reducing the 2D to 3D visualization burden students have when learning. 3D printed terrain shows promise as a teaching tool that could be adapted to multiple uses including K-12 classes and upper division earth science courses.