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Through numerous research studies conducted over the past fifty years, the importance of well-developed 3-D spatial skills for success in engineering and other STEM fields has been widely demonstrated. Research conducted in the U.S. and elsewhere, has demonstrated the high level of 3-D spatial skills found in engineering students; however, not all of our first-year students have strong spatial skills when they start their post-secondary studies. Poor spatial skills put these students at a distinct disadvantage when completing introductory courses in mathematics, CAD, descriptive geometry, and graphic communications - first-year requirements in many engineering and STEM programs. In turn, this often leads to poor grades and dropping out of engineering as a result. Women are disproportionally among the group of students with weak 3-D spatial skills. In this study, the spatial skills of first-year students in several engineering and technology programs were assessed through use of two standardized instruments widely used in spatial cognition research. At this interim stage of the research, only grades from the end of semester 1 were available. Results from several key courses were examined to determine if there is a link between spatial skill level and student performance in these courses. This paper outlines the results obtained from this study and draws conclusions regarding the importance of spatial skills for success in introductory STEM courses.
Sorby, S., Nevin, E., Mageean, E., Sheridan, S. and Behan, A. (2014). Initial Investigations into Spatial Skills as Predictors of Success in First-year STEM Programmes. SEFI 2014 42nd Annual Conference European Society for Engineering Education. 14-19 September. Birmingham, UK.