The effects of training spatial skills on student success, efficacy and value in introductory geology students
Spatial skills, which represent the ability to mentally manipulate objects, are critical to entrance, persistence and success in STEM fields and the geosciences in particular. While we have a sense of which components of spatial skills are most relevant to geoscientists, most geoscience faculty do not explicitly offer training in these skills and instead assume that they will develop naturally over time. These skills may serve as a filter for who is able to enter and be successful in the geosciences, therefore the lack of intentional spatial development and the lack of understanding in regards to a factor so influential to student success is a clear problem that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, while there is a large body of research that correlates spatial skills with success in STEM, more work needs to be done to understand potential reasons for that correlation to exist.
Here, we used control and experimental groups in an embedded multiple-case design approach to train spatial skills in introductory geology courses in Fall 2020 (n = 227) and Spring 2021 (n = 170). Spatial training exercises consisted of previously validated online training modules (Gold et al., 2018). We assessed effects of this training on student outcomes including (1) spatial skill, (2) success in the course, (3) perceived value, and (4) perceived self-efficacy. Efficacy and value were measured through pre- and post-semester surveys. Course success was measured by final course grade. Changes in spatial skill were measured using the Geologic Block Cross-Sectioning Test, Leuven Embedded Figures Test, and the Revised Purdue Spatial Visualization Tests. The understanding developed through this research addresses grand challenges identified as a priority by the geoscience education research community and by geoscience education practitioners through the Community Framework, and can help guide future studies of spatial understanding development in both the geosciences and other disciplines.