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Interdisciplinaria

versión On-line ISSN 1668-7027

Resumen

VAZQUEZ, Stella Maris  y  NORIEGA BIGGIO, Marianela. Spatial reasoning and academic achievement. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2011, vol.28, n.1, pp. 145-158. ISSN 1668-7027.

The paper reports an enquiry aimed at: (1) assessing the spatial reasoning level reached by students admitted to the university entrance course at the Architecture, Design and Urban Planning School of the University of Buenos Aires, (2) examining the relation between spatial reasoning and academic achievement, (3) exploring the relation between spatial reasoning and secondary schooling, (4) evaluating spatial reasoning progress at the end of the course, and (5) ascertaining possible gender - related differences in spatial reasoning and academic achievement. Current literature is reviewed, focusing on the concept of spatial reasoning, the skills involved, gender - related differences and academic achievement, with special reference to technology studies. Two prevailing trends are identified: the factorial approach and cognitive. Explanations of male spatial skills advantage stress biological or environmental aspects or a combination of both. Students' poor spatial reasoning performance at the start of university highlights the need to develop spatial competence at the lower levels of schooling, particularly in secondary school, within an integral education approach. This would en- compass all the essential dimensions of the human being, rather than concentrate on disembodied rationality. Research points to mental visualisation and graphic communication abilities as necessary components of drawing and design. Training in object manipulation, block building and the sketching of observed objects has been found to enhance performance in activities specifically related to the contents taught, although transfer to test situations would seem harder to accomplish. Spatial skills training should, therefore, become part of university curriculum, especially in the case of technology courses. The sample was made up of 596 students enrolled in the Drawing Course. A quasi-experimental pre-test post-test intact group design was used and the results were linked to gender-related attribution patterns. Students' initially low spatial reasoning level would point to secondary schooling shortcomings. Significant differences in spatial reasoning level have been observed between the beginning and the end of the course, which might be ascribed to instructional intervention, consistently with research findings on the effects of training on spatial reasoning ability. Results for the whole sample reveal that male subjects scored higher on spatial reasoning ability, but no significant gender-related differences have been detected in the case of subjects with a technologically oriented secondary education. This might be associated with gender-based differences concerning the role of specific training. Drop-out rates were lower among women, who, together with higher post-test score increases and final achievement scores would point to the part played by effort in compensating for skills deficits. Female subjects would appear to make better use of the instruction received. Spatial reasoning has been found to be a good predictor of achievement, with initial spatial reasoning level combined with first semester achievement predicting 60% of the final achievement scores. Academic achievement levels were lower than spatial reasoning ones, especially in the first test. The gap narrowed in the second, which suggests that students learned to use their ability to better advantage during the course. It is concluded that the spatial reasoning capacity of students newly admitted to university may be characterised as limited, which might pose a major hurdle to the completion of technology entrance courses. Secondary schooling should be redefined in terms of the relationship between spatial skills and the capacity to assign representational content to conceptual knowledge, which is required for the latter to become fully possessed and transferable. Far from being restricted to the sphere of technical performance, the need to integrate the conceived and the perceived is rooted in the very nature of human knowledge. A relation has been identified between differences in spatial reasoning and drop-out rates, on the one hand, and degree course choice, on the other.

Palabras llave : Spatial reasoning; Academic achievement; Higher education; Gender - related differences.

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