We conducted a standardized spatial thinking ability test (STAT) to examine the spatial thinking abilities of a group of Chinese undergraduates with a focus on their spatial reasoning, which is a very important component of critical spatial thinking. The college subject of human geography in China is often geared toward the preparation of students for government consultancy and policy-making tasks, known as the “tasks leading disciplines” (renwu dai xueke
), where the pedagogies are problem-solving based and sustainability centered. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has become the universal tool for problem solving in geography and other areas, thus human geography in this situation gives us a context to test and investigate whether and to what extent GIS implementation is able to improve undergraduate spatial thinking levels. Our comparative analysis reported the marginally significant difference of STAT test scores between GIS application (geoinformation group) and its control group (geography group without GIS training). It was also found that the Chinese students performed the spatial reasoning better in this test than American participants as reported in prior study, displaying their higher spatial cognition in terms of problem solving and Boolean logics. Futhermore, a strong negative correlation was reported between STAT test scores and final exam rank. It is possible that the higher geography education in a context of China may not fully embrace the spatial thinking capacity as the strategic goal. The results can help us to better understand the Oriental and Western gaps in higher geography education. Policy suggestions are given in the conclusion.
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