Geospatial Technology to Enhance Spatial Thinking and Facilitate Processes of Reasoning



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Research on spatial thinking in geography education supports the belief that spatial thinking is crucial to academic and career success in geography and other spatially-dependent sciences. It also supports the belief that spatial thinking is malleable, it can be improved upon through education and training. Tools purported to facilitate the training of spatial thinking include geospatial technologies (GST) such as Virtual Globes and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The purpose of this study was to explore the influence of GST as an instructional tool on the development of spatial skills and the acquisition of a spatially-dependent geography concept, central place theory, within an authentic classroom context. A quasi-experimental design was used to compare three groups: an intervention group using GST, a comparison group using traditional paper-and-pencil maps, and a control group. Groups were tested on spatial skills, spatial attitudes, and content knowledge. Results indicate that practice with GST had no effect on spatial skills. Instruction using GST, however, had a significant positive effect on gains in content knowledge as compared to the paper-and-pencil group. Results also indicate that individuals with a high starting level of spatial skill have greater gains in spatial relations content knowledge than their low or average spatial skill counterparts, especially within the GST intervention group. These findings support the inclusion of GST in geography education. Geospatial technologies promote the acquisition of spatially-dependent content for some groups of students. Instruction utilizing GST may, with repeated exposure, facilitate the development of spatial thinking.