Spatial Visualization Skills (SVS) include the ability to imagine what an object would look like from a different vantage point. A rigorous body of research indicates that SVS are critical for success in undergraduate engineering programs, and faculty maintain that engineering graphics should be considered a gateway course because of its impact on student retention. In one study, 80% of students who did poorly in their first engineering graphics course transferred out of engineering and into another major.
Of all of the cognitive processes, SVS exhibit some of the most robust gender differences, favoring males. Students from low socioeconomic status (SES) groups, who are disproportionately underrepresented minorities (URM), are also at risk for poorly developed SVS. Low SVS for women and URM impact our ability to broaden participation in technician programs.
The good news is that SVS are malleable and there is considerable evidence that spatial skills can be learned. Students who improve SVS persist in engineering at a higher rate than those with weak spatial visualization skills who do not improve their skills.
This project is extending the work conducted in four-year institutions with face-to-face SVS training by investigating the impact of SVS training for community college students in technical education and is also investigating optimal formats. The project is assessing student SVS skills using the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotation (PSVT:R) at the start of the semester and again at the end of the semester, student course grades, and student persistence in an engineering technology major.
Over the three years of the project, 175 students in technical education courses in four partner community college institutions completed an SVS training course using a tested curriculum, Developing Spatial Thinking. All students in eligible courses took the PSVT:R and students who earned scores below 70% were invited to participate in the SVS training course. A higher percentage of female students (82%) as compared to male students (58%) was eligible. A higher percentage of Hispanic (70%) and African American students (79%) as compared to white students (54% ) was eligible (Since we did not request an SES indicator, differences in race/ethnicity could be due to SES).
Preliminary evidence from four partner community college institutions is encouraging. Eligible students who completed the course earned a higher score on the post PSVT:R than students who did not complete the course. The higher scores on the assessment is a positive outcome that indicates improved spatial skills among course completers. An even more compelling outcome is that eligible students who completed the spatial skills course earned a higher grade in their credit-bearing course than did eligible students who did not complete the spatial skills course
Since the 2015-2016 school year, community college partners offered a hybrid face-to-face/ asynchronous online format for the SVS training course. Also tested was an iPad App for sketching course assignments that provides immediate feedback to students, removes teacher grading, tracks student progress to allow for early interventions, and allows students the option to take the training course on their own schedule. A combination of student-faculty connections and face-to-face support, new online course materials, and the iPad sketching app provided multiple means for engaging students and increasing student success.
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