Understanding gaps in research networks: using “spatial reasoning” as a window into the importance of networked educational research

Catherine D. Bruce*, Brent Davis, Nathalie Sinclair, Lynn McGarvey, David Hallowell, Michelle Drefs, Krista Francis, Zachary Hawes, Joan Moss, Joanne Mulligan, Yukari Okamoto, Walter Whiteley, Geoff Woolcott

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper finds its origins in a multidisciplinary research group’s efforts to assemble a review of research in order to better appreciate how “spatial reasoning” is understood and investigated across academic disciplines. We first collaborated to create a historical map of the development of spatial reasoning across key disciplines over the last century. The map informed the structure of our citation search and oriented an examination of connection across disciplines. Next, we undertook a network analysis that was based on highly cited articles in a broad range of domains. Several connection gaps—that is, apparent blockages, one-way flows, and other limitations on communications among disciplines—were identified in our network analysis, and it was apparent that these connection gaps may be frustrating efforts to understand the conceptual complexity and the educational significance of spatial reasoning. While these gaps occur between the academic disciplines that we evaluated, we selected a few examples for closer analysis. To illustrate how this lack of flow can limit development of the field of mathematics education, we selected cases where it is evident that researchers in mathematics education are not incorporating the important work of mathematicians, psychologists, and neuroscientists—and vice versa. Ultimately, we argue, a more pronounced emphasis on transdisciplinary (versus multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary) research might be timely, and perhaps even necessary, in the evolution of educational research.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)143-161
    Number of pages19
    JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


    • spatial reasoning
    • network analysis
    • mathematics education
    • transdisciplinary approach


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