Differences in Spatial Reasoning Skills in Undergraduate Geology Students and the Effect of Weekly Spatial Skill Trainings

Tuesday 1:45pm REC Center Large Ice Overlook Room
Oral Presentation Part of Geoscience Education Research II


Anne Gold, University of Colorado at Boulder
Jennifer Stempien, University of Colorado at Boulder
Carol Ormand Ph.D., Carleton College
David Budd, University of Colorado at Boulder
Karl Mueller, University of Colorado at Boulder
Katherine Kravitz, University of Colorado at Boulder
Alyssa Quintanilla, University of Colorado at Boulder
Jennifer Stroh, University of Colorado at Boulder
Spatial reasoning is a key skill for student success in STEM disciplines in general and for students in geosciences in particular. However, spatial reasoning is neither explicitly trained, nor evenly distributed, among students. This uneven playing field allows some students to perform geoscience tasks easily while others struggle despite their own and their instructors' efforts and poses a challenge to instruction. A lack of spatial reasoning skills has been shown to be a barrier to success in the geosciences, and for STEM disciplines in general. Addressing spatial abilities early in the college experience might therefore be effective in retaining students in STEM disciplines beyond the classroom.

We have developed and implemented a toolkit for testing and training undergraduate student spatial reasoning skills in the classroom. In the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters, we are studying the distribution of spatial abilities in 374 undergraduate Geology students from 4 introductory and 2 upper level courses with labs at the University of Colorado Boulder. Four treatment groups receive weekly online training and intermittent hands-on trainings in spatial thinking while four control groups only participate in a pre- and a posttest.

In this presentation we will describe the distribution of spatial skills in undergraduate students enrolled in geology courses, and discuss the factors (e.g., video gaming, spatial sports activity, playing with construction based toys, or prior classes) that might explain the differences in spatial skill levels on pre-tests. We will further share the effect of the trainings modules on the development of spatial skills. We will discuss our data with a special focus on gender differences. We will also discuss the difference in spatial skills between introductory (nearly all non-majors) and upper level students (all majors). Our work provides insight into what types of interventions are successful in improving students' spatial skills.