2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 10:35 AM


BALDWIN, Tammy K., Geosciences, Univ of Arizona, 1040 E 4th St, Tucson, AZ 85721 and HALL-WALLACE, Michelle, Geosciences, Univ of Arizona, 1040 E 4th Street, Tucson, AZ 85721-0077, tkb@geo.arizona.edu

Introductory courses in the geosciences have ambitious goals of teaching students about complex global earth processes. This requires helping students develop the critical skills to visualize 2- and 3-dimensional structures and systems that vary in scale and over time. Studies have shown that spatial abilities can be improved with specific learning experiences but less is known about how much time and what type of exercises are required to develop the skills needed as a geoscientist. To evaluate the effect of a semester long geoscience course on spatial skills, we designed an experiment to evaluate two large enrollment introductory courses for non-science majors. Neither course included a laboratory section however, both included lectures with a significant number of maps, animations and other types of visualizations of Earth processes. The experimental class completed (as homework) four 2-hour long investigations of Earth hazards that required using a Geographic Information System (GIS) to analyze and manipulate spatial geologic information. The control class did not complete any homework or other exercises that included work with maps and spatial data. Both the experimental and control group completed web based pre- and post-tests to measure their ability to mentally rotate 3D objects and to construct a 3D object from a 2D representation. For comparison, we also measured the spatial abilities of science majors in an introductory geology course with a 3-hour weekly laboratory section. All subjects improved their spatial skills, although there was no difference between the control and experimental groups in the courses for non-science majors. We were unable to measure an improvement that could be linked to the use of the GIS investigations. In contrast, the scores for the science majors in the introductory course were initially higher than the non-science majors and showed significantly higher improvements. This indicates that beginning science majors have more developed spatial abilities than non-science majors, and that sustained hands-on practice with geoscience concepts can improve studentsÂ’ spatial abilities further. It also suggests that we evaluate teaching strategies in courses for non-science majors to ensure that students can interpret and understand the visual imagery used in lectures.