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June 22, 2020
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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 , ,  report that well-developed SVS skills lead to students’ success in Engineering and Technology, Computer Science, Chemistry, Computer Aided Design and Mathematics. Authors ,  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. , 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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