Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering and Technology Education


Gary Stewardson


Though there is ample evidence showing a positive relationship between a student's spatial ability and achievement in many fields of science, technology, and engineering, this study was seeking evidence that a relationship exists between a pre-engineering student's spatial ability and achievement in an electronics fundamentals course.

The importance of spatial ability to mentally design, develop, and manipulate images has been linked to measures of practical and mechanical abilities that are quite useful in technical occupations. Spatial abilities are frequently attributed to creative and higher order thinking skills in science and mathematics. Spatial imagery is tremendously important in art and creative thinking, and has an important role in abstract engineering disciplines such as electronics.

This study included 154 students enrolled in two sections of a fundamentals electronics course. The average age of the students enrolled in this course was 22.64 years old. The majority (89.6%) of the students was male, and 59.1% of the students majored in mechanical engineering. The average GPA of the participants was 3.4. The participants scored well on the spatial ability test (avg. 17.5, out of a possible 20), and the average grade received in the course was a B (avg. 85.6, out of a possible 100).

This study showed a highly significant (.000 alpha 1-tailed level) and near medium (Pearson's r of .29) correlation strength between spatial ability and achievement in the course. There was significant positive correlation between GPA and spatial ability--corroborating that pre-engineering students with high GPAs also have high spatial ability. When controlling for GPA in a partial correlation, it was found that spatial ability accounted for a significant amount of the variance in the semester scores, which suggests that spatial ability provides some good prediction of doing well in an electronics fundamentals course above and beyond what GPA predicts alone.

Many STEM subjects are at the atomic level and require using mental models that are created in the mind's eye and necessarily require spatial reasoning ability. The understanding of a given aspect of the physical world is best conceptualized with a mental model.

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