#WaveWatching as “transformative experience”? (Based on articles by Pugh et al. 2019, 2011, 2010)

I was reading an article on “active learning” by Lombardi et al. (2021), when the sentence “In undergraduate geoscience, Pugh et al. (2019) found that students who made observations of the world and recognized how they might be explained by concepts from their classes were more likely to stay in their major than those who do not report this experience” jumped at me. Something about observing the world and connecting it to ideas from class was so intriguing, that I had to go down that rabbit hole and see where this statement was coming from, and if it might help me as a theoretical framework for thinking about #WaveWatching (which I’ve been thinking about a lot since the recent teaching conversation).

Going into that Pugh et al. (2019) article, I learned about a concept called “transformative experience”, which I followed back to Pugh (2011): A transformative experience happens when students see the world with new eyes, because they start connecting concepts from class with their real everyday lives. There is quote at the beginning of that article which reminds me very much of what people say about wave watching (except that in the quote the person talks about clouds): that once they’ve started seeing pattern because they understood that what they look at isn’t chaotic but can be explained, they cannot go back to just looking at the beauty of it without questioning why it came to be that way. They now feel the urge to make sense of the pattern they see, everytime they come across anything related to the topic.

This is described as the three characteristics of transformative experiences:

  • they are done voluntarily out of intrinsic motivation (meaning that the application of class concepts is not required by the teacher or some other authority),
  • they expand peception (when the world is now seen through the subject’s lens and looks different than before), and
  • they have experiential value (meaning the person experiencing them perceives them as adding value to their lives).

And it turns out that facilitating such transformative experiences might well be what distinguishes schools with higher student retention from those with lower student retention in Pugh et al.’s 2019 study!

But how can we, as teachers, facilitate transformative experiences? Going another article further down the rabbit hole to Pugh et al. (2010), this is how!

The “Teaching for Transformative Experiences” model consists of three methods acting together:

  • framing content in a way that the “experiential value” becomes clear, meaning making an effort to explain the value that perceiving the world in such a way adds to our lives. This can be done by expressing the feelings it evokes or usefulness that it adds. For #WaveWatching, I talk about how much I enjoy the process, but also how making sense of an aspect of the world that first seemed chaotic is both satisfying and calming to me. But framing in terms of the value of the experience can also be done by metaphors, for example about the tales that rocks, trees, or coastlines could tell. Similarly, when I speak about “kitchen oceanography”, I hope that it raises curiosity about how we can learn about the ocean in a kitchen.
  • scaffolding how students look at the world by helping them change lenses step by step, i.e. “re-seeing”, for example by pointing out specific features, observing them together, talking through observations or providing opportunities to share and discuss observations (so pretty much my #WaveWatching process!).
  • modeling transformative experiences, i.e. sharing what and how we perceive our own transformative experiences, in order to show students that it’s both acceptable and desirable to see the world in a certain way, and communicate about it. I do this both in person as well as whenever I post about #WaveWatching online.

So it seems that I have been creating transformative experiences with #WaveWatching all this time without knowing it! Or at least that this framework works really well to describe the main features of #WaveWatching.

Obviously I have only just scratched the literature on transforming experiences, but I have a whole bunch of articles open on my desktop already, about case studies of facilitating transformative experiences in teaching. And I cannot wait to dig in and find out what I can learn from that research and apply it to improve #WaveWatching! :)

Lombardi, D., Shipley, T. F., & Astronomy Team, Biology Team, Chemistry Team, Engineering Team, Geography Team, Geoscience Team, and Physics Team. (2021). The curious construct of active learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 22(1), 8-43.

Pugh, K. J., Phillips, M. M., Sexton, J. M., Bergstrom, C. M., & Riggs, E. M. (2019). A quantitative investigation of geoscience departmental factors associated with the recruitment and retention of female students. Journal of Geoscience Education, 67(3), 266-284.

Pugh, K. J. (2011). Transformative experience: An integrative construct in the spirit of Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 46(2), 107-121.

Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Koskey, K. L., Stewart, V. C., & Manzey, C. (2010). Teaching for transformative experiences and conceptual change: A case study and evaluation of a high school biology teacher’s experience. Cognition and Instruction, 28(3), 273-316.

3 thoughts on “#WaveWatching as “transformative experience”? (Based on articles by Pugh et al. 2019, 2011, 2010)

  1. Apostolos Deräkis

    Very interesting thoughts! This post can certainly be a “transformative experience” for many of us!

    I am thinking about the “voluntarily, out of intrinsic motivation” requirement. If I already have the intrinsic motivation, then I am probably half-way there: open to new ways of seeing things, ready to cross over that threshold.

    On the other hand, don’t we all recall incidents where the “transformative experience” took place in a course, or in (mor generally) an institutional setting?

    I would argue that the liberty offered in certain environments (as in this place) is very conducive to transformative experiences, but this does not preclude them from happening in other settings.

    Reply
    1. Mirjam

      Yes, I agree! I didn’t do a great job expressing what I meant. From what I understand, the point is not that the transformative experience itself is intrinsically motivated, but that after such an experience, people feel motivated to apply the new skills in a context where it isn’t required that they do so.

      Reply
  2. Apostolos Deräkis

    True, nicely expressed!

    Pugh *defines* the construct of TE as follows: “Transformative experiences occur when students actively use curricular concepts in everyday life to see and experience the world in a new, meaningful way” and claims to demonstrate that “it has practical value as a measurable construct that uniquely focuses on the consequences of learning on everyday experience”.

    His argument is then on “the development of instruction to foster transformative experiences”. We instructors ought to be motivated to apply the construct in professional contexts, improve our methods … and see how our students apply their learning everywhere, unprompted.

    Seems that Pughs definition of the TE construct is a tad restrictive, contrary to how the words are used in everyday language. The uninitiated may assume that TE is a similar concept to threshold knowledge :-)

    Reply

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