Geospatial Thinking of Undergraduate Students in Public Universities in the United States
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Geospatial thinking and learning are essential components of geography education. The National Research Council’s 2006 report, Learning to Think Spatially, emphasized that people vary with respect to performance on spatial tasks. Geospatial thinking is a subset of spatial thinking in general. Geospatial thinking is using Earth space at different scales to structure problems, find answers, and express solutions using geospatial concepts, tools of representation, and reasoning processes. Scholars in geography and other disciplines have studied group differences in spatial and geospatial thinking focusing on sex, age, and school grade-level. This dissertation utilized additional demographic variables, such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status, academic variables, such as academic majors and geography academic experience, and geographic locational variables, such as census divisions and urban/suburban/rural locations, to explore group differences in geospatial thinking.
The national study in this dissertation utilized Geospatial Thinking Survey (GTS), based on Spatial Thinking Ability Test (STAT) (Lee and Bednarz 2012), to assess group variances in geospatial thinking abilities of undergraduate students (n = 1479) in 61 public universities in 32 states across nine census divisions of the United States. This mixed-method study investigated whether some groups of students, such as ethnic groups or academic major groups, outperform others in overall geospatial thinking and in separate geospatial thinking domains, such as geospatial association and geospatial overlay, and matched students’ performance on the GTS with instructors’ perceptions of students’ geospatial thinking skills. This dissertation also undertook statistical and data- mining modeling to predict the geospatial thinking score of undergraduate students based on demographic and academic characteristics.
The quantitative findings of this research showed that ethnicity, along with socioeconomic status, and geography courses are the most important variables in understanding, influencing, and predicting undergraduate students’ geospatial thinking in the United States. Geography educators must tailor classroom instruction and curricula to help improve geospatial thinking of underperforming ethnic groups, especially blacks and Hispanics. The qualitative findings of this study revealed that college geography educators do not have a clear perception of their students’ geospatial thinking, because instructors are not fully utilizing geospatial tools of representation, such as maps, to improve the understanding of geospatial concepts in their students.