Another iEarth Teaching Conversation with Kjersti Daae and Torgny Roxå, summarized by Mirjam Glessmer
“Transformative experiences” (Pugh et al., 2010) are those experiences that change the way a person looks at the world, so that they henceforth voluntarily engage in a new-to-them practice of sensemaking on this new topic, and perceive it as valuable. There are methods to facilitate transformative experiences for teaching purposes (Pugh et al., 2010), and discovering this felt like the theoretical framework I had been looking for for #WaveWatching just fell into my lap. But then Torgny asked the question in the title above. For many academics, seeing the world through new eyes, being asked questions they haven’t asked themselves before, discovering gaps in their argumentations, surrendering to a situation (Pugh 2011), engaging in sensemaking (Odden and Russ, 2019), being part of a community of practice (Wenger, 2011) is fun. Not in all contexts and on all topics, of course, but at least in many contexts. But can we assume it’s the same for students?
In order to feel that you want to take on a challenge in which you don’t know whether or not you’ll succeed, a crucial condition is that you believe that your intelligence and your skills can be developed (Dweck, 2015). A growth mindset can be cultivated by the kind of feedback we give students (Dweck, 2015). The scaffolding (Wood et al., 1976) we provide, and the opportunities for creating artefacts as tangible proof of learning* can support this. But how do we get students to engage in the first place?
One approach, the success of which I have anecdotal evidence for, could be to use surprising gimmicks like a DIY fortune teller or a paper clip to be shaped into a spinning top to raise intrigue, if not for the topic itself right away, then for something that will later be related to the topic, hoping that the engagement with the object can be transferred to the topic.
Another approach, which also aligns with my personal experience, might be to let students experience the relevance of a situation vicariously, infecting students with the teacher’s enthusiasm for a topic (Hodgson, 2005). However, Torgny raised the point that sometimes the (overly?) enthusiastic teacher themselves could become the subject of student fascination, thus diverting attention from the topic they wanted the students to engage with.
A third way might be to point out alignment of tasks with the students’ own goals & identities. Growth mindset interventions can increase domain-specific desire to learn (Burette et al., 2020), identity interventions increase the likelihood of engagement, for example targeting physics identity (Wulff et al., 2018). Goal-setting intervention can improve academic performance (Morisano et al., 2010).
I want to relate these three ideas to feelings of competence, relatedness and autonomy, which are the three basic requirements for intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2017), but I am sadly out of space. But I think that self-determination theory is a useful lens to keep in mind when developing teaching.
- Burnette, J. L., Hoyt, C. L., Russell, V. M., Lawson, B., Dweck, C. S., & Finkel, E. (2020). A growth mind-set intervention improves interest but not academic performance in the field of computer science. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(1), 107-116.
- Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.
- Hodgson, V. 2005. Lectures and the experience or relevance. In Experience of learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education, F. Marton, D. Hounsell, and N. Entwistle, vol. 3, 159–71. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment
- Odden, T. O. B., & Russ, R. S. (2019). Defining sensemaking: Bringing clarity to a fragmented theoretical construct. Science Education, 103(1), 187-205.
- Morisano, D., Hirsh, J. B., Peterson, J. B., Pihl, R. O., & Shore, B. M. (2010). Setting, elaborating, and reflecting on personal goals improves academic performance.Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 255–264. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018478
- 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.
- Pugh, K. J. (2011). Transformative experience: An integrative construct in the spirit of Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 46(2), 107-121.
- Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford
- Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: A brief introduction.
- Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 17(2), 89-100.
- Wulff, P., Hazari, Z., Petersen, S., & Neumann, K. (2018). Engaging young women in physics: An intervention to support young women’s physics identity development. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 14(2), 020113.
*Very nice example by Kjersti: Presenting students (or fathers-in-laws) with a few simple ideas about rotating fluid dynamics enables them to combine the ideas to draw a schematic of the Hadley cell circulation. Which is a lot more engaging and satisfying that being presented with a schematic and someone talking you through it. If you are willing to surrender to the experience in the first place…