The Role of GIS-Based Spatial Learning for Promoting Spatial Abilities and Spatial Thinking in Context

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Research shows that psychometrically-assessed spatial abilities (e.g., spatial visualization and spatial orientation) can be improved through training, and that some training yields improvements that are transferable to novel contexts and tasks (Uttal et al., 2013). While the training of these spatial abilities may be valuable for some forms of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) learning, the training of spatial skills alone may not be sufficient to promote the kinds of spatial thinking that will promote long-term growth in education. In addition to training spatial abilities, it may be beneficial to teach students higher-order spatial thinking skills. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that participation in a year-long Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course (the GeoSpatial Semester) would yield measurable improvements in both spatial abilities and higher-order spatial thinking. Our results provide preliminary evidence to support this claim. Students who completed the GeoSpatial Semester demonstrated some improvement in spatial ability and showed increased use of select spatial problem-solving strategies, specifically their intent to use different forms of spatial representations when solving novel problems. These results provide some support for the use of GIS as a spatial learning tool and suggest potential benefits for continuing to research the effects of geospatial technology as a means for promoting spatial abilities and teaching higher-order spatial thinking skills.

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  • 10/21/2019
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