Spatial Skills and Success in Computing

Jack Parkinson and Quintin Cutts have  been researching the connection between spatial ability and success in Computing Science at a university level. It has been discovered that, along with many STEM subjects, success in computing courses at university correlate with one’s spatial skills: that is, their ability to mentally manipulate 2D and 3D objects, identify visual patterns and other spatial cognitive tasks.

Jack’s MSci project in 2017 strengthened our understanding of this correlation by showing that people further advanced in their computing careers had stronger spatial skills on average than those starting out, and suggested a theoretical model for the relationship between spatial ability and success in Computing Science. This work was published and was well received by the Computing Science Education community, being awarded the Chair’s Award for best paper at the International Computing Science Education conference 2018.

Jack began his PhD in this area in 2019, starting by implementing a training programme for spatial skills within the School of Computing Science. This programme led to substantial gains in computing grades for students who initially began the course with low spatial skills and lower computing grades, and particularly those with less prior programming experience.

Following this, he has more closely examined the relationship between computing success and spatial skills by targeting individual factors, like expression evaluation and programming problem solving. Additionally, he has explored the relationship between spatial skills and final GPA outcomes.

Jack completed his PhD in 2023 and has begun work on a post-doctoral project involving spatial skills development in parimary schools called the STEM SPACE Project.