Beyond small-scale spatial skills: Navigation skills and geoscience education
Permanent link to this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12613/4548
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Abstract© 2019, The Author(s). Background: Research examining the relation between spatial skills and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields has focused on small-scale spatial skills, even though some STEM disciplines—particularly the geography and geoscience (GEO) fields—involve large-scale spatial thinking at the core of their professional training. In Study 1, we compared large-scale navigation skills of experienced geologists with those of experienced psychologists, using a novel virtual navigation paradigm as an objective measure of navigation skills. In Study 2, we conducted a longitudinal study with novice Geographic Information Systems (GIS) students to investigate baseline navigational competence and improvement over the course of an academic semester. Results: In Study 1, we found that geologists demonstrated higher navigational competence and were more likely to be categorized as integrating separate routes, compared to their non-STEM counterparts. In Study 2, novice GIS students showed superior baseline navigational competence compared to non-STEM students, as well as better spatial working memory and small-scale mental rotation skills, indicating self-selection. In addition, GIS students’ spatial skills improved more over the course of a semester than those of non-STEM students. Conclusions: Our findings highlight the importance of large-scale spatial thinking for enrollment and success in the GEO fields but likely also across the broader range of thinking involving spatial distributions. We discuss the potential of GIS tools to develop spatial skills at an early age.
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