How Spatial Is It?

[Note: this survey was completed in 2009 and preliminary results reported in this blog post: "Locating and Measuring Spatial Thinking" and a short paper you can download here.]

As part of an ongoing effort to locate and measure spatial thinking in large text collections related to academic research, I am – with Dan Montello – conducting an experiment that asks people to judge the spatiality of 20 NSF award abstracts on a scale of 0-100. More complete instructions are on the introductory page.

We are developing computational linguistics measures to "locate and measure spatial thinking" in various corpora. These so far include NSF award abstracts from 1988-2009 (~200,000) and course descriptions for all UCSB academic departments, as well as a some corpora of ‘standard’ English. This study will help evaluate computational measures against human judgments of spatiality. The purposes are twofold:

  1. Demonstrate that spatial thinking is in fact "pervasive [and] vital across a wide range of domains of practical and scientific knowledge" (NRC 2006), and to what extent in absolute and relative terms.
  2. Inform efforts at defining specific learning objectives for the explicit teaching of spatial thinking, to motivate curriculum development. Our focus at this stage is on the undergraduate college level.

Preliminary results will be posted on, and presented more formally in a forthcoming paper. We welcome any comments or questions you may have about the study.



Karl Grossner: karlg [at] geog [dot] ucsb [dot] edu
Dan Montello

UC Santa Barbara Geography