What spatial thinking skills are important in hydrogeology?
Monday 2:30pm Tate 101
Oral Session Part of Monday A: Geoscience Education Research
Peggy McNeal, Towson University
Heather Petcovic, Western Michigan University
Joel Moore, Towson University
Matt Reeves, Western Michigan University
Oluwarotimi Popoola, Western Michigan University
Hydrogeologists integrate three-dimensional data from maps, wells, field sites, and models to understand subsurface movement of groundwater and pollutants. This work is highly spatial. While many students enter STEM fields without well-developed spatial skills, targeted training of these skills can improve student performance and retention. However, specific spatial skills relevant to learning and practicing hydrogeology have not been documented, hampering efforts to improve training of students for careers in hydrogeology in response to societal need for groundwater resources. This study seeks to identify which spatial skills are important in hydrogeology among a cross-section of novices (undergraduate students) to experts (professional academic and industry hydrogeologists). We aim to produce a quantitative model in which measures of spatial skills and hydrogeology knowledge predict performance on typical hydrogeology tasks provided to students in undergraduate hydrogeology courses. To identify which spatial skills may be relevant, we surveyed expert hydrogeologists and found that one or more skills related to mental rotation, penetrative thinking, spatial scanning, or spatial frame of reference were perceived as important. With input from university hydrogeology instructors and pilot-testing with students, we developed a test of hydrogeology knowledge. We also developed a contaminated site characterization task in which participants use maps and site data to complete a cross section, draw a potentiometric surface map, complete a three-point problem, and contour a contaminant plume. Data have been collected thus far from 50 novice to expert hydrogeologists, with a subset of 15 completing a think-aloud as they worked through the suite of tests and tasks. Here we share findings from the quantitative model, identifying which spatial thinking skills are relevant to problem-solving in hydrogeology.