Exploring Aesthetic Experiences in the Undergraduate General Education Science Classroom

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Virginia Tech


Citizens must have a minimal level of STEM-literacy to work alongside scientists to tackle both current and future global challenges. How can general education, the one piece of the undergraduate experience every student completes, contribute to this development? And science learning is dependent on having transformative aesthetic experiences in the science classroom. These memorable experiences involve powerful connection between students and the world around them. If these types of experiences are necessary for science learning and growth, are students in introductory science courses having them? If so, what relationship might they have with students' desires to pursue further science study?

This dissertation explores these questions through two manuscripts. The first, a theoretical piece published in the Journal of General Education in 2015, argues that non-STEM students must have transformative aesthetic experiences in their undergraduate general education science course to develop the level of understanding needed to engage with challenging scientific issues in the future. This claim is substantiated by bringing together the work of Dewey and Deweyan scholars on the nature and impact of aesthetic experiences in science and science education with the general education reform efforts and desired outcomes for an informed and engaged citizenry.

The second manuscript, an empirical piece, explores the lived experience of non-STEM students in an introductory geosciences course. A phenomenological research methodology is deployed to capture the 'essence' of the lived experience of a STEM-philic student in general education science. In addition, Uhrmacher's CRISPA framework is used to analyze the participants' most memorable course moments for the presence or absence of aesthetic experiences. In explication of the data, it shows that students are in fact having aesthetic experiences (or connecting to prior aesthetic experiences) and these experiences are related to their desires to pursue further STEM study.



aesthetic experience, undergraduate STEM, general education