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Spatial Visualization Skills Training at Texas State University to Enhance STEM Students' Academic Success

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

NSF Grantees: Learning Tools (Virtual)

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Clara Novoa Texas State University

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Dr. Clara Novoa is an Associate Professor at the Ingram School of Engineering at Texas State University. She has a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and her research areas are Dynamic and Stochastic Programming and Parallel Computing to solve mathematical optimization problems applied to logistics and supply chain. Dr. Novoa has 19 years of experience in academia and 4 years of experience in industry. Dr. Novoa is receiving funding from NSF through Texas State STEM Rising Stars (2015-2019) and ME-Green: Manufacturing for the Environment by Generating Renewable Energy in Enterprise Networks (2017-2020). Texas State STEM Rising Stars is a four-years grant related to increase the first and second year retention and graduation rates of students in STEM. ME- Green is a three-years grant to model and design a grid-connected onsite generation system featuring renewable power to realize zero-carbon industrial operations. Dr. Novoa has been also committed to research on strategies to achieve gender equity and cultural inclusiveness in science and engineering.

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Bobbi J. Spencer Texas State University

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B.J. Spencer, Ph.D., AIA

Dr. Spencer is an Assistant Professor of Practice in the Department of Construction Science and Management at Texas State University where she focuses on the architectural courses, VDC, and is the internship coordinator. In 2017, she obtained her Ph.D. in Education from Texas State University with the emphasis on professional education. A registered Architect in the State of Texas, she received a Master of Architecture from Texas A&M University in 2007 where she participated in a study abroad semester at the Universita della Svizzera italiana, Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio, Switzerland following 23 years of industrial experience in architecture and construction.

Dr. Spencer’s research interests include:
Professional & International Education: architecture and construction
Experiential Education: study abroad, internships
Virtual Design, Construction and Operations (VDCO)
Education in online and virtual environments

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Leona Hazlewood Texas State University

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Hailing from Texas as of three generations deep, Ms. Hazlewood understands the worth of hard work, fresh water and education. With a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Texas State University (1999), Ms. Hazlewood learned a sincere appreciation for our ecosystems and sustainability. Upon graduation, gainful employment proceeded in The Xiphophorus Genetic Stock Center which bestowed a sincere interest in research to help solve our world’s problems, including cancer research, preservation of aquatic species, and genetic analysis. This inspiration led Ms. Hazlewood to an academic advisor position, thus allowing her to complete a master’s degree in chemistry (2013). The opportunity of higher education has led Ms. Hazlewood to a path of educating our future generations through experiences and shared learning as a US 1100 – freshman seminar instructor since 2014 and as an academic advisor for science and engineering since 2008.

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Araceli Martinez Ortiz Texas State University

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Araceli Martinez Ortiz, PhD., is Research Associate Professor of Engineering Education in the College of Education at Texas State University. She leads a comprehensive research agenda related to issues of curriculum and instruction in engineering education, motivation and preparation of under served populations of students and teachers and in assessing the impact of operationalizing culturally responsive teaching in the STEM classroom. As executive director of the LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research, she collaborates on various state and national STEM education programs and is PI on major grant initiatives through NASA MUREP and NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education and NSF DUE . Araceli holds Engineering degrees from The University of Michigan and Kettering University. She holds a Masters degree in Education from Michigan State and a PhD in Engineering Education from Tufts University.

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A diagnostic of thirty questions administered to incoming STEM students in Fall 2013 and Fall 2015 - Fall 2018 reflects that their spatial visualization skills (SVS) need to be improved. Previous studies in the SVS subject [1], [2], [3] report that well-developed SVS skills lead to students’ success in Engineering and Technology, Computer Science, Chemistry, Computer Aided Design and Mathematics. Authors [4], [5] mention that aptitude in spatial skills is gradually becoming a standard assessment of an individual’s likelihood to succeed as an engineer.

This research reports the qualitative and quantitative results of a project designed to improve SVS’s for STEM students managed under two strategies. The first strategy utilized was a series of face-to-face (FtF), two-hour training sessions taught over six weeks to all majors in STEM. This strategy was offered in Spring 2014 and every semester from Fall 2015 - Spring 2018. The second strategy was an embedded training (ET) implemented by one faculty from Fall 2017- Fall 2018. The faculty embedded the training in the US 1100 freshman seminar and was highly motivated to increase awareness of students on the importance and applicability of SVS in their fields of study. As reported by Swail et al. [6], cognitive, social, and institutional factors are key elements to best support students’ persistence and achievement. Both interventions used in this project encompassed all these factors and were supported by an NSF IUSE grant (2015-2019) to improve STEM retention.

The FtF training was taken by 34 students majoring in diverse STEM fields. Its effectiveness was statistically assessed through a t-test to compare the results in the Purdue Spatial Visualization Skills Test - Rotations before and after the training and through analysis of surveys. Results were very positive; 85.29% of the participants improved their scores. The average change in scores was 5.29 (from 16.85 to 22.15; 17.65% improvement) and it was statistically significant (p-value 3.9E-8). On the surveys, 90% of students answered that they were satisfied with the training. Several students reported that they appreciated a connection between SVS, Calculus II and Engineering Graphics classes while others based the satisfaction on perceiving the critical role SVS will play in their careers.

Results from the ET strategy were also encouraging. Teaching methods, curriculum and results are discussed in this paper. Adjustments to the teaching methods were done over 3 semesters. In the last semester, the faculty found that covering the modules at a slower pace than in the FtF training, asking the students to complete the pre-and post-diagnostic in class, and introducing the Spatial VisTM app to provide students with additional practice were key elements to assure students success and satisfaction. In conclusion, both strategies were demonstrated to be powerful interventions to increase students’ success because they not only offer students, particularly freshman, a way to refine SVS but also increase motivation in STEM while creating a community among students and faculty. The ET is effective and apt to be institutionalized. Lastly, this experimental research strengthens the literature on SVS.

Novoa, C., & Spencer, B. J., & Hazlewood, L., & Ortiz, A. M. (2020, June), Spatial Visualization Skills Training at Texas State University to Enhance STEM Students' Academic Success Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35200

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