Spatial Ability and Learning to Program
Sue Jones, Gary Burnett
Abstract: Results in introductory programming modules are often disappointing, and various individual differences have been found to be of relevance. This paper reviews work in this area, with particular reference to the effect of a student’s spatial ability. Data is presented on a cohort of 49 students enrolled on a Masters in IT course at a university in the UK. A measure was taken of their mental rotation ability, and a questionnaire administered that focused on their previous academic experience, and expectations relating to the introductory programming module they were studying. The results showed a positive correlation between mental rotation ability and success in the module (r=0.48). Other factors such as confidence level, expected success and programming experience were also found to be important. Data from a subgroup of students who had chosen to continue with programming showed a stronger correlation between spatial skills and programming success (r=0.57). These results are discussed in relation to the accessibility of programming to learners with low spatial ability.