THE IMPORTANCE OF SPATIAL REASONING SKILLS IN UNDERGRADUATE GEOLOGY STUDENTS AND THE EFFECT OF WEEKLY SPATIAL SKILL TRAININGS – WITH A SPECIFIC FOCUS ON THE GENDER GAP
We developed and implemented a toolkit for testing and training spatial reasoning skills. We studied the distribution of spatial skills in 618 undergraduate Geology students in 4 introductory and 2 upper level courses. Following random assignment, treatment groups received weekly online and intermittent hands-on trainings while the control groups only participated in the pre- and post-test assessment of spatial thinking.
We examined a number of factors that best account for differences in baseline spatial skills, including general intelligence (using standardized test scores as a proxy), major, video gaming, and other childhood play experiences. Results indicate that cumulative training of childhood play has a lasting effect, and particularly helps to explain the gender gap observed in most research. We found a statistically significant improvement of spatial thinking skills with large effect sizes for the students who received weekly training. Self-report data further indicates that students perceived that improving their spatial skills increased their performance in geoscience courses. We conclude that teaching students how to think spatial, rather than assuming that they can, would improve geoscience learning in all students.