The role of geospatial technologies on developing spatial thinking of secondary school students in geography learning

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Spatial thinking is integral to geography learning and a powerful thinking tool that deepens and broadens students' geographic understanding through inquiry. Geospatial technologies, like Google Earth™ have opened up new avenues for teaching and learning spatial thinking. However, there has been insufficient literature to understand how far and in what ways such technologies foster acquisition and application of specific spatial skills. Consequently, this study investigated the relationship between using geospatial technologies and the improvement in spatial thinking by considering: I) are there differences in spatial thinking between a group of students using geospatial technologies and a group that does not, and 2) how do geospatial technologies enhance spatial thinking skills of students. A mixed-method design was used to collect data by quasi-experimental and qualitative methods. Specifically, the school interventions were designed for secondary school students and implemented in two Singaporean schools. A conceptual framework that considered literature on technology supported learning, existing typologies of spatial thinking skills and processes of geographic inquiry was constructed to guide the sequential learning of spatial thinking. Google Earth™ was selected to create learning packages for this study. A spatial pre- and a post-test were developed to measure any changes in 16 types of spatial skills after the intervention. Statistical methods like independent samples t-test and AN COY A were adopted to compare improvement in spatial skills between the control and experimental group. Qualitative data from student interviews and reflections was used to triangulate the findings from the quantitative data to examine roles of geospatial technologies on learning gains observed.<br><br>To better structure the learning experience aimed at improving spatial thinking, this study first identified students' baseline ability to deal with space in terms of their readiness, misconceptions and learning difficulties. Then findings presented affirmed the hypothesis of the first research question that students improved in some spatial thinking skills by utilizing geospatial technologies, including locating places, sequencing geographic events in a timely manner, describing changes in space, interpreting cross-section diagrams, distinguishing geographic boundaries and associating geographic variables. There was also improvement of spatial skills in the seven areas with different levels of difficulty. This enhanced the understanding of space and places through an inquiry approach. Further, this study found that geospatial technologies assisted the development of specific spatial skills through four aspects: 1) strengthening geographic knowledge that informs ways of applying spatial skills, 2) supporting specific spatial reasoning, 3) enhancing interpretation of spatial representations of different dimensions, 4) reinforcing spatial primitives that develop higher-order spatial concepts.<br><br>Correspondingly, key implications of this research for school geography were addressed. First, secondary schooling is a critical period to nurture spatial thinking skills. Second, building a conceptual framework is important in guiding the learning of spatial thinking within the proper scope and in a right sequence. Third, the research methodology in this study can provide reference for future development of similar interventions on training spatial thinking skills in an effective and efficient way. Fourth, geospatial technology based teaching and learning cannot achieve success without sufficient support from the well-created geospatial data, effective pedagogy and appropriately developed curriculum design.