June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
Educational Research and Methods
11.1279.1 - 11.1279.12
The Effect of Spatial Ability on the Retention of Students in a College of Engineering and Physical Science
Spatial ability has been shown to be positively correlated with retention and achievement in science disciplines such as chemistry and physics. However, whether such a correlation exists for engineering has been disputed in the literature. To provide further data to answer this question, portions of the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test (PSVT) were administered to freshman engineering and undeclared students from a College of Engineering and Physical Science (CEPS). In addition, a self efficacy test, which was developed to assess the self confidence of students related to spatial tasks, was also administered. The data analysis showed that those students who remained in CEPS from their freshman to sophomore year (either change majors within CEPS or stayed in the same major) performed better on the PSVT than those students who changed colleges or withdrew from the university. For the self efficacy measure, a similar effect was found; however, this effect was small and not reliable. If evaluating only engineering students, the data analysis did not find such an effect for either spatial ability or self efficacy. Thus, the importance of spatial ability with respect to the retention of undeclared students in STEM disciplines, but not engineering students alone, was clearly found. Additional data analysis also showed that freshman and senior students from various engineering disciplines had equivalent spatial ability and self efficacy.
The shortage of engineering students and fear that the United States will lose its global technological advantage are well documented1 while enrollment in engineering disciplines has fallen consistently since 1979, approximately 1.6% annually2. A report by the National Science Board estimated a 47% growth in science and engineering employment from 2000 to 20102. Concerns related to this growth in engineering employment include the attraction, retention, and quality of students in engineering disciplines. Research has shown that achievement in engineering courses is correlated with spatial ability3-6 and that spatial ability skills can be improved through training3, 4. However, whether a correlation between retention and spatial ability exists has been disputed in the literature.
Sorby and Baartmans7 developed a course at Michigan Technological University entitled “Introduction to Spatial Visualization” to improve the spatial ability of freshman students who were identified as at-risk due to poorly developed spatial skills. These students were invited to take the course; however, the course was opened to any interested student. The course included topics such as isometric and orthographic sketching, flat pattern development, and rotation of objects. Data analysis showed that the spatial ability skills of the students after the course (i.e. the experimental group who opted to take the course) were significantly better than the students who opted not to take the course (i.e. the control group). Also, the retention rates in engineering disciplines increased from 52.0%
Kinsey, B., & Towle, E., & Hwang, G., & O'Brien, E. J., & Bauer, C. F. (2006, June), The Effect Of Spatial Ability On The Retention Of Students In A College Of Engineering And Physical Science Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--529
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