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Spatial Skills Training Impacts Retention of Engineering Students - Does This Success Translate to Community College Students in Technical Education?

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session I

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Susan Staffin Metz Stevens Institute of Technology (School of Engineering and Science)

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Susan Metz is Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Senior Research Associate at Stevens Institute of Technology. Metz is a founder of WEPAN, Women in Engineering ProActive Network. She is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, the Maria Mitchell Women in Science Award and is a Fellow of the Association for Women in Science.

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Sheryl A. Sorby Ohio State University

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Dr. Sheryl Sorby is currently a Professor of STEM Education at The Ohio State University and was recently a Fulbright Scholar at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin, Ireland. She is a professor emerita of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University and the P.I. or co-P.I. on more than $9M in grant funding, most for educational projects. She is the former Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech and she served at the National Science Foundataion as a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education from January 2007 through August 2009. Prior to her appointment as Associate Dean, Dr. Sorby served as chair of the Engineering Fundamentals Department at Michigan Tech. She received a B.S. in Civil Engineering, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, all from Michigan Tech. Dr. Sorby has a well-established research program in spatial visualization and is actively involved in the development of various educational programs.

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Tania Jarosewich Censeo Group LLC

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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 first year (2015-2016), 47 students in technical education courses in three 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 (65%) as compared to male students (52%) was eligible. A higher percentage of Hispanic (63%) and African American students (76%) as compared to White students (47%) was eligible.

Preliminary evidence from three partner community college institutions is encouraging. Students who completed the SVS training course earned higher grades in their technical education courses than did eligible students who did not take the SVS course.

In the 2015-2016 school year, community college partners are offering a hybrid face-to-face/ asychnronous online format for the SVS training course.. Also being testing 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 training course on their own schedule. The 2015-2016 data, will compare the outcomes of the face-to-face and online SVS training and the iPad App. Data collected in December 2015 will also track the persistence of the community college students who completed the SVS training course in spring 2015 as compared to students who did not.

Metz, S. S., & Sorby, S. A., & Jarosewich, T. (2016, June), Spatial Skills Training Impacts Retention of Engineering Students - Does This Success Translate to Community College Students in Technical Education? Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25853

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