Spatial Skills Training Impacts Retention of Engineering Students –
Does This Success Translate to Community College Students in Technical Education?
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 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.
In the project’s second year (2015-2016), 95 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 (79%) as compared to male students (56%) was eligible. A higher percentage of Hispanic (71%) and African American students (76%) as compared to white students (54% ) was eligible (Since we did not request a socioeconomic status (SES) indicator, differences in race/ethnicity could be due to SES).
Preliminary evidence from four partner community college institutions is encouraging. Students who completed the SVS training course earned higher grades in their technical education courses than eligible students (those who took the PSVT:R and feel below 70%) who did not take the SVS course.
Since the 2015-2016 school year, community college partners have been offering a hybrid face-to-face/ asynchronous online format for the SVS training course. Also being tested is 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. It is anticipated that data collected in the third year will compare the outcomes of the face-to-face and online SVS training and the iPad App, and will track the persistence of the community college students who completed the SVS training course as compared to students who did not.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.