Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Jerry Mitchell


This dissertation investigates whether spatial learning outcomes differ with respect to different instructional media. Specifically, it examines traditional, paper aerial imagery as compared to digital imagery visualized with 3D globes. Two research questions provided the focus: 1) Does spatial thinking skill development differ between analog (paper) and digital map media; 2) Does spatial thinking skill development differ based on attitudes toward geography, past travel experience, or demographic variables such as gender, and are there interaction effects among them related to the different media?

Spatial thinking skill development was measured as students received instruction using either paper or digital maps. Spatial thinking skills were tested pre- and post-lesson implementation via the Spatial Thinking Ability Test (STAT); sample tested skills included direction, distance, comparison, region, transition, pattern, and association. The research questions were investigated via a quasi-experimental (non-random) design involving classes of 8th grade middle school students.

This study determined that spatial thinking skill development does differ between the two types of media. Students taught by each media, both paper and digital, showed improvements in spatial thinking skills. Testing was based upon student condition (control group, digital instruction, and paper instruction), STAT question (each question requires specific spatial skills), and skill area (broad categories of spatial thinking skills included in the STAT). Overall, paper map instruction was found to develop spatial thinking skills among students slightly better than digital map instruction when analyzing STAT score improvements by student condition and by STAT question. Although there were no statistically significant differences in any of the 8 skill are when analyzing STAT score improvements by skill area, the digital map instruction showed improvements in more spatial thinking skill areas than the paper map instruction.

A small correlation was found between student spatial thinking acquisition and past travel experiences of students. Additionally, this study established a small correlation between student spatial thinking skill acquisition and student attitudes toward technology. There were also significant correlations found between student spatial thinking skill acquisition and academic levels. This study established that Honors students performed better than College Preparatory students.

This study has shown that both media, paper and digital, have their own benefits and weaknesses, but ultimately both assist in improving spatial thinking skill acquisition among students. Digital maps should be utilized in the K-12 curriculum, but not at the expense of the more traditional, paper map.

Included in

Geography Commons