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meta reflection part 2

A lot has happened in terms of my development and growth in the months since my last meta reflection in September. There is so much to talk about. I have been exposed to many different concepts regarding the ways people learn from many different avenues. I have also learned a lot about different technologies that can enable learning science to pursue established knowledge in new ways. I will undoubtedly carry what I have learned into my future aspirations. I feel like the world is blown wide open given the combination of learning science and immersive technologies.

Learning Theories and Work

First, I’d like to talk specifically about learning theories and how my increasing knowledge of them relates to my professional and academic life. As I said in my previous meta reflection, I am a physics demonstration specialist. My role is to provide instructional support to professors in the form of visual equipment and simulations. I had “known” since I started 8 years ago that this is an important part of a physics education, but I could never quite put into words why. Well, I could, but not be able to back it up with anything more than anecdotes. The things I have learned this semester give me a solid methodological foundation for why demonstrations and lab equipment are useful (and inform how they might be improved – and I will talk about this later).

The most memorable learning concepts that pertain to my profession are those of expertise, transfer, memory, and context. It is our job as an educational institution to guide students to becoming experts, to allow them to transfer their knowledge to new situations (whether they are closely or loosely related), to make sure that they can recall information when it is needed, and do it regardless of the exact conditions of application. I know now that providing a visual demonstration can help to provide a stronger mental representation of an idea for students, allowing them to be able to recall the concept easier. I know that providing hands-on equipment for an individual will allow them to use this memory in a new (embodied) context, which should further strengthen their representation of the “big idea”. By having a vast repertoire of demonstrations and lab equipment, I can provide students with this scaffolding on virtually every topic in physics. This kind of instruction works particularly well with my student workers – these students have the opportunity to break down and set up demonstrations, meaning that they get to articulate these contexts repeatedly, and it shows in the speed and competence that they exhibit with the physical and semantic physics content.

A big part of my first meta reflection had to do with outreach and activism too. It still boggles my mind that many of the concepts that I encountered this semester were first proposed and continued to become established many decades ago… and yet, policy and teacher training is still poor. It shows in the critical thinking of the general public, and this trickles into who we as a nation’s people put into power (along with the policies and decisions that they are inclined to enact). I feel empowered to impact teacher training and policy more than ever before, armed with the research of cognitive and learning science. As a physicist, science and data driven policy should be the norm, and it pains me to know that there the educational arena, where established science exists, is largely ignored.

Learning Theories and Academics

This brings me to the focus of my master’s degree – science education, with a focus on using immersive technologies like virtual and augmented reality. This semester, I took a few other classes – a journal club that discussed inclusive teaching in science education, a discussion/project-based class on virtual and augmented reality (XR) for education, and pFX: a class where we discussed career paths “beyond the professoriate”. Each of these were just as important for my personal growth as the raw learning science class.

There were so many moments in the inclusive teaching and XR-focused class where the things that I was learning in LSE 540 were explicitly mentioned. In a paper in the XR class, seminal research on expertise from the LSE 540 textbook “How People Learn” was cited.  A similar thing happened in the journal club where active learning was being compared to traditional teaching modalities. Moments like these provided great clarity and vision for me – each of my academic classes were visibly and directly related to each other. It made me feel like I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing. I care very much about inclusion in STEM (it has, and continues to be, dominated by white men, although this is changing!) as well as how XR can expand upon established learning science research, and possibly innovate it.

My future ambitions lie within the domains that I have involved myself in this semester. I have hoped to become someone knowledgeable in how people learn, the development of content within the mediums of virtual and augmented reality, and how the effectiveness of this content can be measured and evaluated. As I’ve stated, the content of my classes this semester has helped me greatly. For the remainder of this meta reflection, I would like to parse out my current projects and what I hope to work on in the future, and how it ties back to learning science.

One project I am involved with is MAGNA-AR, where I am a content specialist, handling participants, and doing analysis. The application leverages smartphone sensors to overlay magnetic field in the real world using augmented reality. We want to study how introductory college students use this new tool to make sense of fields, and how their conceptualization of fields changes compared to traditional 2D methods like compasses.  Since the concept of fields is a foundational physics concept, having positive results would have implications for virtually every STEM field (think all physical science, pre-med, and engineering). I am excited for this project as it will be the first research project that I am deeply involved in. We can possibly study and apply concepts like context, experience, expertise, and transfer in the context of physics.

Another project I am a part of is the planetary visor, where I am working on virtual reality UI/UX design. It is a tool intended to aid expert planetary scientists in analyzing Mars rover and satellite data by allowing the scientists to have spatial command over the visualization (i.e. “walking” on Mars, having spectral and topographical data merged). While there is no learning science research being done, there is definitely a relation between the mindset of the expert (planetary scientist) and the usability of the interface. I just began my involvement in this project, but I have already begun working with an expert to really identify the way they would like to visualize these things as they have the most in-depth knowledge. All of this is to say that working with a “subject matter expert” means that the concepts of expertise must be kept in mind.

For my professional life, I want to leverage AR to supplement physics education in a different way than physical demonstrations. I am very interested in the scalability of augmented reality (it is available on mobile phones, something that virtually everyone has access to). A long term goal that currently has support from my team is to develop augmented reality experiences that can animate or otherwise help a student to visualize what a question is asking. It is common for a student to read a word problem and be completely lost, even though they grasp the content behind the problem. In this way, I can provide more experience and context for students, and hopefully increase performance on those types of word problems.

Finally, there is a currently undetermined master’s thesis project that I must pursue. There exists a modality of teaching in geoscience education called virtual field trips (VFTs) which leverage 360° picture and video technology along with interactivity and adaptive feedback. My goal is to supplement or augment these VFTs with augmented or virtual reality. But before I begin developing any of that, I must analyze the VFTs as they are and boil it all down to the learning science and learning goals. I realize now more than ever that this is key – after all, in science, the more specific we can be when we formulate the question, the more targeted we can design an experiment. I do not yet know what question I need to answer, so my goal for the near future is to find the weaknesses or missing pieces in the VFTs that might lend itself to an augmented or virtual reality experience.


All in all, this semester was a great one. I love being around people who are passionate about learning and education. All my professors were incredible – I felt free to discuss and probe the questions that I was curious about, to ask for advice on projects and the future, and generally feel accepted and empowered to pursue learning. Of course, my peers were amazing too – having a study group of peers with different skill sets and backgrounds makes learning exciting. I feel that I have struck a great balance in my ambition and professional/academic relationships, and I can only hope that this continues as I move on through graduate school.

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