Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

First Advisor

Katherine Ryker


Spatial skills, which represent the ability to mentally manipulate objects (Schneider & McGrew, 2012; Atit et al., 2020) have been shown to be correlated with entrance, persistence and success in STEM (Shea et al., 2001; Wai et al., 2009). Specifically, these skills have been shown to be necessary to geologists and geoscientists (Hegarty, 2014; Gagnier et al., 2016). While we recognize the importance of these skills, explicit training in them is rarely offered (NRC 2006). Consequently, cognitive scientists and discipline based education researchers have begun concerted efforts to offer training in spatial skills to improve student outcomes (e.g. Uttal et al., 2013; Gold et al., 2018); and such efforts have been recognized as a priority in our discipline via the Community Framework for Geoscience Education Research (the Framework; St. John, 2018).

Three distinct studies are described here, each building towards priorities described in the Framework. Chapter 2, focuses on the first theme of the Framework (Pyle et al., 2018), which pertains to improving students’ conceptual understanding of the solid Earth and determining optimal course sequence(s). In this study, we analyzed hundreds of geology degree programs within the United States to determine the most commonly required courses. We found that structure, sedimentology / stratigraphy, introductory courses, field methods, historical geology, mineralogy and petrology were the most frequently required. This finding lays the groundwork for determining which sequences of courses, if any, optimize student learning by determining which courses are required of students. Chapter 3, shifts to focus on the effects of training spatial skills in introductory geology courses. This chapter lends itself more to the sixth theme of the Framework, which is centered around the development and assessment of spatial skills (Ryker et al., 2018). In this study we learned that by providing students with short, weekly spatial training assignments, we are able to increase their self-efficacy in their geology course, as well as buffer expected losses in their value of the course. In Chapter 4 we specifically investigated the relationship between students’ spatial skills and academic performance at the introductory level, and students’ attitudes towards taking additional geology courses.

Included in

Geology Commons