Why do we lose so many engineering students between years 1 and 2?

Students who struggle with spatial visualization skills (SVS) have trouble succeeding in engineering gateway courses like engineering graphics.  They are vulnerable to transferring out of engineering and into another major.  

Research indicates that a basic level of proficiency with SVS is critical to persistence in engineering. The good news is that with practice, students can improve this skill.

Improvement in spatial skills is most significant in female and under-represented students but all students with weak spatial skills can benefit from spatial training.

What you can do to help your students

Spatial skills can be taught and learned in 15-20 hours using research-based, proven curricular resources. There is a rich body of research that supports this premise – check it out for yourself at http://www.engageengineering.org/spatial/whyitworks/.    

The following process has been repeated many times in colleges across the country:

  • Assess your incoming engineering students before they start classes. The Purdue Spatial Visualization Rotations Test (PSVT:R) consists of 30 questions and takes 20 minutes to complete.
  • Enroll students with weak spatial skills in a 10 week lab-based course that teaches sketching techniques for topics such as orthographic projection and inclined curves.
  • Re-test students after they complete the course and measure the differences in their scores. 
  • Monitor the retention of these students throughout their degree program.

This last step requires patience but demonstrates the pay-off. Two retention milestones for these students are –

  • Completion of engineering gateway courses
  • Degree completion

Rinse and repeat for each incoming class of students.

How to get started

There are resources to help jumpstart your spatial training program available at  http://www.engageengineering.org/spatial/takeaction/.    

Fee-based resources include the “Developing Spatial Thinking” curriculum consisting of instructional software and a workbook with sketching exercises.

  • The spatial material covers ten topics, each of which is typically reviewed in a 90-minute lab session, over the course of 10 weeks. 
  • Sessions start with a 10-15 minute mini-lecture after which students work through an instructional software module for each topic in teams of two.
  • Students complete sketching exercises in workbook pages for the remainder of the time.
  • The “Developing Spatial Thinking” curriculum can be taught by anyone who is comfortable helping students understand and work through spatial concepts and exercises. 

You’ve got the story now and resources to get you started.

You don’t need to torture your engineering students in their first engineering courses. Help them succeed!