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The Spatial Thinkers That Get Left Outside Higher Education's Gates

What would it be like to have a university focused on developing spatial talent?

Tom Baker and David DiBiase from esri recently invited me to contribute to a panel discussing the idea of a "spatial university." Their piece, Envisioning The Spatial University, introduces this idea. Each of the panelists was asked to respond. I was honored to be included along with David Uttal, Diana Sinton, John Wilson, and Ola Ahlqvist. The full discussion can be found here. What follows is the entry I provided:

Colleges and universities today already have departments—such as engineering—for students with spatial strengths. However, what many people don’t realize is that the students who have made it into and are thriving in these engineering departments do not just have strong spatial ability, but also had to have reasonable strengths in math and verbal ability. This is because the two major college entrance examinations—the SAT and ACT—focus primarily on math and verbal abilities and lack a spatial measure.

However, there is a group of individuals who are left outside higher education’s gates because their strengths are primarily spatial rather than mathematical or verbal. In some of my research with my colleagues David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow, we used a stratified random sample of America’s high school population—Project TALENT—and demonstrated that a large fraction of the most spatially talented thinkers are not as mathematically and verbally talented. This is the group of students who would be well served by a university that focused on spatial thinking.

I don’t think that colleges and universities necessarily undervalue spatial talents once the students arrive on the traditional campus because excellent engineering departments already exist. It’s just that many spatially talented students who are not as good with words or numbers have simply not made it onto campus. And this is likely due to the fact that their K-12 education has not been tailored to the way they think. In addition, because standardized tests throughout K-12 also do not include spatial measures, many of these students are not identified as talented students and hence their spatial talent likely goes underdeveloped.

For students who are brilliant but whose talents are primarily in the spatial domain, perhaps a spatial university would be a place where they could connect with others like themselves. That is something that I would envision as a very positive aspect of a spatial university.

For more on this topic see my article Why Don't We Value Spatial Intelligence?

© 2012 by Jonathan Wai

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