Experiences of Transformative Awe and the "Small Self" in Scientific Learning and Discovery
Cuzzolino, Megan Powell
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CitationCuzzolino, Megan Powell. 2019. Experiences of Transformative Awe and the "Small Self" in Scientific Learning and Discovery. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractOver the past two decades, psychologists have found increasing evidence that experiencing the emotion of awe can facilitate a shift in perspective that reorients the individual toward contexts that are vastly greater than the self. For science educators who wish to help learners understand humans as participants within a variety of vast, interconnected systems, these findings suggest compelling implications about the potential of awe as a pedagogical tool. However, the existing research on awe is almost exclusively focused on adults, has been primarily conducted through laboratory studies that do not resemble authentic learning experiences, and has not specifically examined the relationship between awe and science.
In this dissertation, I present the findings of two qualitative studies that aim to further our understanding of the relationship between the emotion of awe, the experience of feeling connected to something larger than the self, and science learning. In Study 1, I interviewed professional scientists (n=30) to identify features of moments of awe that are experienced in the context of their scientific work and investigate the cognitive, affective, and behavioral impact of these experiences. The findings indicate that scientists’ experiences of awe resulted from personal moments of discovery as well as broader conceptual knowledge. Participants reported that awe served as a key motivator for their continued pursuit of the work.
In Study 2, I followed adolescent students (n=12) in two summer science programs to investigate how the instruction informed their perceived relationship to the large scientific phenomena and systems they were studying. Through analysis of observational and interview data and students’ written work, I found interactions between the unique features of each setting and students’ orientation toward the scientific concepts addressed by the instruction. Across both sites, students reflected on how the instruction had shaped their understanding of natural systems, though they were less likely to extend their reflections to implications for their own roles and behaviors within those systems.
In addition to contributing to the scholarly literature, the findings from this dissertation offer implications for science pedagogy in the K-12 context as well as in higher education and the training of professional scientists.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42081562