Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Success in today's globalized, multi-dimensional, and connected world requires individuals to have a variety of skill sets – i.e. oracy, numeracy, literacy, as well as the ability to think spatially. Student's spatial literacy, based on various national and international assessment results, indicates that even though there have been gains in U.S. scores over the past decade, overall performance, including those specific to spatial skills, are still below proficiency. Existing studies focused on the potential of virtual learning environment technology to reach students in a variety of academic areas, but a need still exists to study specifically the phenomenon of using Google Earth as a potentially more useful pedagogical tool to develop spatial literacy than the currently employed methods.

The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which graphicacy achievement scores of students who were immersed in a Google Earth environment were different from students who were provided with only two-dimensional instruction for developing spatial skills. Situated learning theory and the work of Piaget and Inhelder's Child's Conception of Space provided the theoretical grounding from which this study evolved. The National Research Council's call to develop spatial literacy, as seen in Learning to Think Spatially , provided the impetus to begin research.

The target population (N = 84) for this study consisted of eighth grade geography students at an upper Midwest Jr. High School during the 2009-2010 academic year. Students were assigned to the control or experimental group based on when they had geography class. Control group students ( n = 44) used two-dimensional PowerPoint images to complete activities, while experimental group students (n = 40) were immersed in the three-dimensional Google Earth world for activity completion. Research data was then compiled and statistically analyzed to answer five research questions developed for this study.

One-way ANOVAs were run on data collected and no statistically significant difference was found between the control and experimental group. However, two of the five research questions yielded practically significant data that indicates students who used Google Earth outperformed their counterparts who used PowerPoint on pattern prediction and spatial relationship understanding.