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Three-dimensional thinking in radiography
Introduction Research to date has not been able to agree whether spatial abilities can be developed by practice. According to some researchers spatial ability is an inherited cognitive ability, compared to spatial skills that are task specific and can be acquired through formal training. It is commonly assumed that radiographers require general cognitive spatial abilities to interpret complex radiographic images. This research was conducted to investigate second year radiography students’ three-dimensional thinking skills pertaining to film-viewing assessments. Materials and methods The experimental research strategy was mainly applied together with correlation research. Two trials were run (in 2005 and 2006). The sample group consisted of fifteen second year diagnostic radiography students in 2005 and twenty-three second year diagnostic radiography students, of the same institution, in 2006. Each year group was randomly divided into a control group and an intervention group. Two instruments were used, that is a film-viewing assessment and a three-dimensional test, Academic Aptitude Test (University) (AAT) nr. nine: Spatial Perception (3-D). The whole class completed this basic spatial aptitude test, as well as a base-line film viewing assessment, which focused on the evaluation of technique/anatomy of second year specialised radiographic projections. The marks that the students achieved in the fore-mentioned tests were compared, to determine if there was any correlation between their performances in the different tests. A curricular intervention, which was intended to improve applied three-dimensional skills, was subsequently applied. The students executed certain modified radiographic projections on parts of a human skeleton. For each radiographic projection, the students had to draw the relation of the X-ray beam to the specific anatomical structures, as well as the relation of these structures to the film. The related images of these projections were also drawn. With each of the following sessions, films including images of the previous session were discussed with each student. After the intervention, the whole class wrote a second film-viewing assessment. The marks achieved in this assessment were compared to the marks of the initial film-viewing assessment to determine the influence of the intervention on the performance of the intervention group. Following this assessment, for ethical reasons, the same intervention took place with the control group. A third film-viewing assessment was then written by all the diagnostic second year students to evaluate the overall impact of the intervention on the applied three-dimensional skills of the class. The marks of both the 2005 and 2006 classes (intervention classes) were compared to the marks achieved by former classes from 2000 to 2004 (control classes), in film-viewing assessments to evaluate the role of the curricular intervention over the years. The students again completed the three-dimensional test, Spatial Perception (3-D) to evaluate the impact of the intervention on students’ general three-dimensional cognitive abilities. These marks were also compared to the marks of the third filmviewing assessment, to determine if there was any correlation between the students’ performances in the different tests. Results The intervention groups did not perform significantly better in film-viewing assessments after the intervention, compared to the control groups, but reasonable differences, favouring the intervention group, were achieved. Statistical significance was achieved in film-viewing assessments with both year groups after the whole class had the intervention. The intervention year groups also performed significantly better than the previous year groups (without the intervention) in film-viewing assessments. The performance in general three-dimensional cognitive abilities of the group of 2006 improved significantly after the intervention, but on the contrary, the performance of the group of 2005 declined. There was a small intervention effect on the performance of the group of 2006. Only a weak to moderate correlation between the marks of the students achieved in the three-dimensional tests and the marks achieved in the film-viewing assessments, was found. Conclusion The contrasting evidence between the data of the two groups (2005 and 2006) in the three-dimensional tests and the small intervention effect on the performance of the group of 2006, makes the intervention not applicable for the increase of general spatial abilities. The results of this research show that the applied three-dimensional skills of radiography students in interpreting specialised and modified projections can be improved by intensive practice, independent of their inherited spatial abilities.