Nicole LaDue

Geology and Environmental Geosciences

Northern Illinois University

My research incorporates methods from psychology and education research traditions to study how students learn in the geosciences. Most of my current work targets students at the introductory level to better understand how spatial thinking and visual representations influence their understanding. Additionally, I am involved with projects on persistence in STEM and using active learning to address equity gaps. NIU is a large Midwestern R2 that serves a high percentage of Pell-eligible, transfer, and first generation students. 

Spatial Thinking and Geocognition

Spatial thinking involves how people mentally manipulate information. Spatial skills are related to success in science fields, and particularly in geology. There is convincing evidence that while some students come to college with strong spatial thinking skills, there are ways to train the skills for those who do not. I am currently investigating how these skills relate to problem solving with common geoscience visuals.

Visuals in Science Education

The geosciences rely heavily on a variety of visual representations (such as maps, graphs, diagrams). Some students may struggle with the visuals presented in their geology class. My graduate student is currently investigating the role of spatial skills and sequence diagram interpretation. 

Persistence in STEM

NIU received a $1M S-STEM project to support high achieving students with financial need. My graduate students and I are studying how peer support groups influence students' persistence in STEM. 

Updated information about the NIU Visualization & Geoscience Education Research Lab can be found here:  

Workshop Leader, Webinar Participant, Website Contributor

Website Content Contributions

Activities (18)

Erosion in a River part of GET Spatial Learning:Teaching Activities
× Formative assessment questions using a classroom response system ("clickers") can be used to reveal students' spatial understanding. Students are shown these diagrams and instructed to ...

On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Collection This activity is part of the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Activities collection.
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Essays (4)

Linking Time and Space in Geology: The Sedimentary Processes of Transgression and Regression part of GET Spatial Learning:Blog
In geology, space and time are inexorably linked (Kastens & Manduca, 2012; Manduca & Kastens, 2012). The relationship of rock layers vertically and laterally is indicative of large-scale changes in the ...

Conference Presentations (8)

Assessing the impact of diagram detail on students understanding of hydrology part of Earth Educators Rendezvous:Previous Rendezvous:Rendezvous 2022:Program:Poster Sessions:Friday Poster Session
Geoscience education relies on figures and diagrams to convey visual and spatial information to students, but the effectiveness of those images can be difficult to assess. Additionally, an individuals' ...

Other Contributions (3)

Visuospatial Ability and Geologic Mapping: Experts and Novices in the Field part of Structural Geology and Tectonics:2014 Structure and Tectonics Forum Abstracts
Nicole LaDue, Northern Illinois University Heather Petcovic, Western Michigan University Julie Libarkin, Michigan State University D. Zachary Hambrick, Michigan State University Kathleen Baker, Western Michigan ...

Monday Earth Education Forum: Mentoring for the Next Generation of Geoscientists part of Earth Educators Rendezvous:Previous Rendezvous:Rendezvous 2022:Program
For many of us, the pandemic has laid bare challenges all across academia, not the least of which is how we mentor and support our students. In this forum, our goal is to have frank conversations to reflect on what ...

Engaging Your Students with Visual Representations: Why, What, and How part of Earth Educators Rendezvous:Previous Rendezvous:Rendezvous 2021:Program:Morning Workshops:Engaging your students with visual representations: Why, What, and How
Visual-spatial reasoning is important for understanding many of the structures and processes in the geosciences. To make learning more efficient, instructors must engage students using strategies that facilitate ...