Transformative Experiences and Related Factors: Comparison
Please note this is a comparison between Version 2 by Camila Xu and Version 1 by Kevin J Pugh.

Transformative experience refers to experiences in which students use curricular concepts in everyday, out-of-school life to see and experience the world in meaningful, new ways. To pursue transformative experience as an educational goal, it is important to identify individual factors associated with undergoing transformative experience.

  • transformative experience

1. Introduction

Over the last few decades, increasing attention has been directed toward conceptualizing, measuring, and understanding science engagement [1–4][1][2][3][4]. One unique approach to studying science engagement is the research on transformative experience [5], as this research uniquely targets engagement extending beyond the classroom. Transformative experience refers to experiences in which students use curricular concepts in everyday, out-of-school life to see and experience the world in meaningful, new ways [6]. Like other science engagement constructs, transformative experience has been related to important learning outcomes, including enduring learning [7[7][8],8], deep understanding [9], conceptual change [8[8][10],10], transfer [11–13][11][12][13], identification with science [7], and academic and career choice [14,15][14][15]. In line with Dewey’s [16] educational philosophy, transformative experience has also been advocated as a goal in its own right. The purpose of science education, from this perspective, is to transform and enrich individuals’ relationship with the world by changing the way they see and experience it in everyday life outside of school [5].

2. Transformative Experience Theory

John Dewey was a prominent American educator and philosopher whose work has had an important influence on the development of contemporary motivation theories [17–19][17][18][19]. Work on transformative experience represents a neo-Deweyan motivational framework [20], drawing strongly on Dewey’s theory of aesthetic and educative experience. Below, researchers briefly review how Dewey’s work provides a basis for transformative experience theory.

Central to Dewey’s [21] aesthetics is the construct of “an” experience. In contrast to ordinary experience, “an” experience is characterized by unity, consummation, and transformation. The arts provide with experiences that expand our horizons by changing the way researchers perceive the world “thus leaving us and the world itself irrevocably changed” [22] (p. 33). For example, Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows may impress upon a viewer a paradoxical sense of nature as tumultuous loneliness and nature as restorative health. This experience may awaken anticipation in the viewer leading to viewing and experiencing nature through this lens.

Pugh and colleagues [5,6,23,24][5][6][23][24] have argued that such aesthetic experience is implicit in Dewey’s [16,25,26][16][25][26] writings on educative experience, particularly his construct of ideas (i.e., conditional meanings or possibilities). Like “an” experience, ideas are consummatory experiences that expand perception [6,24,27,28][6][24][27][28]. That is, curricular concepts can become ideas; possible ways of seeing and making sense of the world. Such ideas can awaken anticipation leading students to see and experience the world in new ways. This type of experience with curricular content has been labeled “transformative experience” [8].

2.1. Defining a Transformative Experience

Based on Dewey’s characterization of “an” experience and ideas, Pugh [6] defined three characteristics of transformative experience: motivated use, expansion of perception, and experiential value. Motivated use refers to the application of school content in contexts (particularly out-of-school contexts) where application is not required. If learning is going to enrich and expand everyday experience as Dewey hoped, then it can’t remain confined to the classroom. Expansion of perception refers to seeing (or re-seeing) aspects of the world (e.g., events, objects, issues) through the lens of the science content. Experiential value refers to the meaning and value associated with an expansion of perception. Science ideas can help find additional value in everyday objects, events, or issues.

An example of these characteristics is found in a study by Pugh et al. [29]. In this study, a high school biology teacher collaborated with the researchers to teach for transformative experiences. Among other things, students were asked to take pictures when they noticed connections to curricular content and post the picture with an explanation to a class site. One student (Madison) posted a picture of her TV displaying a commercial with Bigfoot in it. In her caption, she explained, “I had never thought of it before, but since I literally see science everywhere now, I realized that Bigfoot would probably be related to us in some way. I was thinking, if Bigfoot is real, how closely related would he be to us, and what is our common ancestor?” (p. 346). She listed other questions and later added: “Edit: I literally just found a picture of a primate family tree with the Sasquatch!” (p. 346). Asked about this edit in an interview, Madison commented, “I actually did some research on it and, like, found the image that linked it to orangutans and stuff and I just thought that was really funny” (p. 348). These actions and comments illustrate both motivated use and expansion of perception. Even though Madison was given an assignment to make connections and post pictures, she in her own words, came to “literally see science everywhere now.” Further, she chose to research the topic on her own. She engaged in motivated use by making the science content a regular part of her everyday life. In doing so, she also experienced an expansion of perception. That is, she came to see things in the world (e.g., Bigfoot) in a new way by perceiving them through the lens of evolution. Moreover, she valued the way in which the science content enriched her everyday experience. In an interview, she commented, “[it] was actually really fun and it helped me see or take the classroom into my personal life” (p. 348). Such valuing is representative of experiential value.

2.2. Factors Related to Transformative Experience

To pursue transformative experience as an educational goal, it is important to identify individual factors associated with undergoing transformative experience. Interest has been found to be an important predictor of transformative experience [14[14][30],30], with maintained situational interest being a stronger predictor than triggered situational interest [31]. In addition, prior research has identified science identity, mastery goal orientation, positive emotions and task values, and openness to experience as factors predictive of transformative experience [12,30-34][12][30][31][32][33][34]. Students’ perceived connection to their instructor(s) and perception of their instructors’ passion for the content are additional factors potentially related to transformative experience and these factors represent fruitful areas of future research.

2.2.1. Perceived Connection to Instructor

Positive relationships with university instructors have been found to predict intrinsic motivation [35], self-efficacy [36], effort [37], and motivation and engagement generally [38]. Further, the research suggests faculty–student relationships influence students’ academic and career choices [39,40][39][40].

Given these connections between positive student–instructor relationships and positive engagement outcomes, it is likely positive student–instructor relationships would also predict transformative experiences. In line with this prediction, Pugh et al. [14] found a significant relation between connection to instructor and transformative experience in a larger path analysis of factors predictive of academic and career choice. However, more research is needed.

2.2.2. Instructor Passion

Prior research confirms instructors’ expression of enthusiasm and passion for the content can have positive effects on engagement outcomes such as interest and intrinsic motivation [41,42][41][42]. Hatfield et al. [43] coined the term emotional contagion in reference to a process of one’s emotions influencing the emotions of others. Researchers have confirmed that instructors’ emotions are indeed contagious [44,45][44][45]. Thus, it seems likely that instructors’ expression of passion for the content would influence students’ passion for the content and facilitate students’ transformative experiences with the content.

This supposition has only been investigated indirectly through intervention studies focused on fostering transformative experiences. In these studies, instructor enthusiasm and modeling of transformative experience have been included as components of interventions effective at fostering transformative experiences [8–10,13,23,29][8][9][10][13][23][29].

2.2.3. Interaction between Connection to Instructor and Instructor Passion

Prior research confirms that models tend to be more influential when they are relatable [46,47][46][47]. Thus, students who perceive a greater connection to their instructor(s) are likely to be more influenced by instructor expression of passion for the content.

3. Conclusion

Pugh et al. [48] found that student’ sense of connection to their instructor(s) and students’ perception of their instructors’ passion for the content were important and statistically significant predictors of transformative experience, even controlling for initial domain interest and self-efficacy. The interaction between perceived connection to instructor and instructor passion was not a statistically significant predictor of transformative experience.


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