As of early December 2014, MIT Press has released the new book edited by Dan Montello, Karl Grossner, and Donald G. Janelle, titled Space in Mind: Concepts for Spatial Learning and Education. Dan is Professor and Chair of our Department of Geography; Karl is a geographer (with his PhD from UCSB) and Digital Humanities Research Developer at Stanford University; and Don is former Program Director of the Center for Spatial Studies here at UCSB, Research Professor Emeritus at UCSB, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Western Ontario. The book is about research on human learning and education that focuses on thinking and reasoning about (and with) space and spatiality. Space and spatiality are central components in understanding the natural and cultural worlds, as well as the abstract or metaphorical worlds of art, literature, and mathematics. Furthermore, the editors believe that promoting spatial thinking in educational curricula is worthwhile and that intellectual questions about such a profound property of reality—so concrete and pervasive yet so abstract and suited to metaphor—are utterly fascinating.
The book started as an interdisciplinary workshop organized by the three editors and held on September 12, 2011, at the tenth biennial Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2011) in Belfast, Maine, USA. In response to a subsequent call for chapter proposals, several were received from both workshop participants and scholars who did not attend. The editors chose as appropriate for the book chapters by scholars from a great variety of disciplinary fields, including geography and cartography, psychology, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, chemistry, construction science, speech and hearing sciences , architecture, geology, and education. Besides the editors’ introductory chapter, epilogue chapters were contributed by two of the top scholars of spatial thinking and education, Mike Goodchild (Emeritus Professor of Geography at UCSB)and Nora Newcombe (Professor of Psychology at Temple University).
The authors of the various chapters discuss concepts and conceptualization relevant to the emerging field of spatial learning and education, both informally and in formal educational settings, such as those involving classrooms, textbooks, or workbooks for K-16 education (from Kindergarten to a Bachelors degree). There is increasing interest across several disciplines and problem domains in the role of space and spatiality in thinking, learning, reasoning, and communication, and in the possibility of explicitly educating students about space and spatiality (for example, the influential 2006 publication by the National Research Council of the National Academies, titled Learning to Think Spatially). Recently, there has also occurred a “spatial turn” in many disciplines, beyond traditional spatial disciplines like geography, motivating a desire to develop educational curricula specifically focusing on spatiality. This spatial turn has also encouraged an emerging focus by researchers and educators on understanding spatial conceptualization, language, learning, and problem solving more generally, across various academic and non-academic contexts.
The editors believe an education focus on spatiality should be informed by various research activities involving spatial thinking and reasoning that have been ongoing for several decades in such research fields as spatial cognition, geographic information systems, spatial econometrics, spatial humanities, data visualization, and other areas of innovation. They recognize the obvious connections among the goals of these different communities but believe they have been largely separate thus far. By bringing them together in this book, and exploring similarities and differences among their work, the editors hope to benefit them all. They especially support the idea that effective spatial education must be based on a thorough understanding of how people conceptualize and learn space and spatiality in a broad range of problem domains, including design, communication, optimization, navigation, and others that relate to people’s daily-life experiences and behavior, and to spatial tasks associated with different professions.
Spatial learning and education pose definite intellectual and empirical challenges for researchers and educators. Its multi-disciplinary nature makes communication across disciplines confusing at times, with multiple terms and frameworks that are not easily translated or that are used differently by different communities. The tension between empirical and theoretical approaches (possibly most pronounced in comparing the humanities and the sciences, and in the sometimes incompatible goals of basic and applied research) is particularly challenging for this area, in part because spatiality is so ubiquitous but also so abstract. It has often been noted that simple, unambiguous definitions of terms such as “spatial thinking,” “spatial learning,” and “spatial intelligence” are hard to come by; just defining “spatiality” in the first place without invoking space is infamously difficult. But recognizing these challenges, several scholars want to develop education programs to enhance “spatial literacy,” in part due to the correlation that has been demonstrated between spatial reasoning skills and educational and professional performance in many scientific and technological fields. If spatial intelligence or spatial thinking ability can be improved in the course of education and/or professional practice, one may ask where and how it will happen in the contexts of educational curricula and professional development. The editors also recognize the remaining substantive research and institutional challenges to effectively implementing spatial curricula for education and life-long learning.
The book consists of 16 chapters organized into 5 parts:
Part I. Introduction and Conceptual Foundations
- 1. Concepts for Spatial Learning and Education: An Introduction (Daniel R. Montello, Karl Grossner, and Donald G. Janelle)
- 2. Three Ways of Using Space (Christian Freksa and Holger Schultheis)
- 3. The Linguistic Ontology of Space: General Methods and the Role of Comparative Linguistic Evidence (John Bateman and Sander Lestrade)
Part II. Visualization in Spatial Learning and Education
- 4. Reasoning with Diagrams: Towards a Broad Ontology of Spatial Thinking Strategies (Mary Hegarty, Mike Stieff, and Bonnie Dixon)
- 5. Spatial Ability and Learning from Visualizations in STEM Disciplines (Scott R. Hinze, Vickie M. Williamson, Mary Jane Shultz, Ghislain Deslongchamps, Kenneth C. Williamson, and David N. Rapp)
- 6. Can Humans Form Four-Dimensional Spatial Representations? (Frances Wang)
Part III. Spatial Thinking and the Body
- 7. Embodiment as a Framework for Understanding Environmental Cognition (David Waller)
- 8. Enhancement of Spatial Processing in Sign Language Users (Evie Malaia and Ronnie Wilbur)
- 9. What Do a Geologist’s Hands Tell You? A Framework for Classifying Spatial Gestures in Science Education (Kinnari Atit, Thomas F. Shipley, and Basil Tikoff)
- 10. Using Spatial Strategies to Facilitate Skillful Wayfinding and Spatial Problem Solving: Implications for Education (Alycia M. Hund)
Part IV. Spatial Thinking and Education
- 11. Spatial Learning in Higher Education (Diana S. Sinton)
- 12. Concepts and Principles for Spatial Literacy (Karl Grossner and Donald G. Janelle)
- 13. Cognition and Communication in Architectural Design (Thora Tenbrink, Christoph Hölscher, Dido Tsigaridi, and Ruth Conroy Dalton)
- 14. Exploring the Nature and Development of Expertise in Geography (Roger M. Downs)
Part V. Epilogue
- 15. Learning to Live With Spatial Technologies (Michael F. Goodchild)
- 16. Teaching Space: What, How and When (Nora S. Newcombe)