Atkins Awarded an NSF Grant to Study Transformative Experiences

Dr. Leslie Atkins and her collaborator Dr. Brian Frank at Middle Tennessee State University were awarded a $200,000 Transforming Undergraduate Education grant from the National Science Foundation.

The goal of science instruction is not to simply produce higher gains on tests, standardized assessments or surveys.  While these measures provide meaningful evidence of science learning, they do not measure the broader goal of developing individuals who can extend their scientific knowledge outside of the classroom. When students come to actively use science concepts to see and experience the everyday world in meaningful, new ways researchers describe this as a “transformative experience” (Pugh, 2004). 

The goal of this project is to develop assessment tools to identify in what ways science courses engender transformative experiences (TE). Through the iterative development of these assessment tools, Atkins and Frank will examine the nature of transformative experiences and the classroom practices that foster them.  Such work will lay the groundwork for further transforming undergraduate education in the sciences by: (1) connecting physics education research with the body of research on transformative experience, providing a language for what has previously been an inchoate goal of physics instruction and an under-researched aspect of physics education; (2) developing assessment tools to allow instructors and researchers to quickly examine the prevalence of transformative experiences in physics classrooms; (3) investigating the nature of transformative experience, by providing case studies of students’ experiences; and (4) examining courses rich in transformative experiences to understand the instructional practices that foster TE.