This research paper will compare the spatial ability of first-year and graduating students to determine whether spatial skills improve over the course of a 4-year engineering degree program. In addition, we investigate whether higher spatial ability leads to a higher overall GPA at the time of graduation. This work was initiated with support from NSF Grant #0833076.
Spatial ability has been identified as a key indicator of success in STEM. Thus, students with low spatial visualization skills (SVS) are more likely to drop out of an engineering program. However, spatial skills can be improved significantly with focused practice. At our university, we have implemented a first-year program aimed at identifying and helping students with low spatial ability. Since women and underrepresented minorities (URM) have lower SVS on average, the intervention can help increase student diversity in addition to student retention.
Spatial ability of all first-year engineering students is assessed by the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations (PSVT:R) as a part of our engineering graphics course. Students who score below 70% are encouraged to attend extra-curricular spatial skills workshops. During these sessions, students complete activities and exercises to practice and develop their spatial skills. Generally, students who complete a short 4-week spatial skills workshop see a significant increase in test score, pre- vs. post-workshop. Average test scores increased from 54.4% to 68.7% in fall 2017 (N=42), and from 55.2% to 68.7% in fall 2018 (N=51).
It is unclear whether these immediate gains in spatial skills are retained however. Do SVS require constant practice to be maintained? Do spatial skills continue to improve over the course of the engineering degree program?
To address these questions, we compare the PSVT:R scores of first-year and graduating (senior) engineering students. Graduating seniors are further separated into two groups for comparison: participants and non-participants in the workshop as first-year students. Overall pass rates and average test scores among all groups are compared. In addition, we investigate whether higher spatial ability correlates to a higher overall GPA at the time of graduation.
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