About the Author: Jacqueline Goldman earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Oklahoma in 2018, with an emphasis on the cognitive and motivational aspects of learning. Her current research focuses on increasing first-generation college student retention in higher education through task value and engagement interventions. Dr. Goldman taught as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Delta State University for 3 years prior to coming to Oregon State University. Dr. Goldman is currently an Instructor in the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University.
One thing that drew me, and many of my students, into the field of Psychology was how easy it was to relate course material to my own life, as much of the material provides opportunity for self-reference (Dunn et al., 2010;). Even though educators in psychology find this to be obvious, some of our students struggle to see the personal and meaningful connections of psychology course material that can prevent higher levels of engagement. This lack of meaningful connection can be especially prominent in statistics, research methods, and other high-level courses that students who may not continue to graduate school may find even less relevant (Conroy et al., 2019).
At first this may not seem like an issue, as you do not necessarily need to find personal relevance in every piece of content that is learned, but helping students to find connection in meaningful ways to course content can help them better retain material in the long term (Heddy & Sinatra, 2017) which is arguably the goal in any course. One way we can encourage and facilitate meaningful and personal connection to course content is through a construct called Transformative Experience (TE).
A transformative experience, refers to using course content in an everyday experience to see and value the world in new ways (Wong et al., 2001). Based on John Dewey’s work on learning and aesthetics, the transformative experience framework as developed by Pugh (2011) combines various components of transfer:
-Applying learning to a new task in a new context (Marini & Genereux, 1995),
– Conceptual change, a cognitive reconstruction of knowledge (Dole & Sinatra, 1998),
– Task value, a students’ belief of the degree to which an academic task is worth pursuing (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000).
There are three pieces (or subcomponents) that need to occur for a true transformative experience to have happened: motivated use, expansion of perception, and experiential value. In essence: students apply concepts to their everyday experience, that then changes the way they see that concept/phenomenon, they then value that concept for its ability to influence their experience, and as a result, their everyday experience is enhanced (for a review see: Pugh, 2011).
Although its construct creation is still relatively new, the findings associated with facilitating TEs in classroom environments (both K12 and higher ed) have demonstrated clear benefits (Heddy & Sinatra, 2017; Pugh et al., 2010). Previous research in STEM courses found that engagement in TE was related to increased interest and perceived instrumentality (Pugh et al., 2017); TE engagement generated positive affect and interest in social studies education (Alongi et al., 2016); and contributed to scientific conceptual change and academic achievement (Heddy & Sinatra, 2013). Similar to other educational interventions, a main concern for educators is how difficult the actual implementation can be.
There are two main avenues for implementing TE interventions, one of them requiring much more instructor involvement and scaffolding (TTES, see Alongi et al., 2016) and one that I have personally used with great success in my own courses, Use Change Value (UCV) discussions (developed by Heddy et al., 2018). Like the commonly used utility value intervention by Hulleman and colleagues (2010), the UCV intervention is a discussion prompt formatted to ask students about each component of TE within a concept they have seen in their own life:
1) Discuss how you saw an example of course content in your everyday life (Use)
2) Discuss how seeing that content in your real-life experience has changed how you see that topic (Change)
3) Discuss why that experience was/is valuable to you (Value). Students write about their experiences with course content in their own experiences, and then discuss these in class, creating rich connections that are personally meaningful for students as well as allowing the instructor to encourage further connections to other students’ experiences and course content.
All in all, TE has been an easy and effective to way to allow students to see their content and lives through a new lens. For a larger discussion see: http://teachpsych.org/E-xcellence-in-Teaching-Blog/12138007
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Pugh, K. J., Bergstrom, C. M., Heddy, B. C., & Krob, K. E. (2017). Supporting deep engagement: The Teaching for Transformative Experiences in Science (TTES) model. Journal of Experimental Education, 85(4), 629–657. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.2016.1277333
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